|Citizens participate in a candlelit rally in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, Saturday, to celebrate the Constitutional Court’s ruling to uphold the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. / Korea Times photo by Kim Jong-jin|
By Jun Ji-hye
The nation is facing perhaps the biggest challenge in its modern history after the Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from power, Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, Saturday, to celebrate the ouster of Park.
This was the end of the scandalous Park regime, but at the same time the beginning of a new Korea.
The “candlelight revolution” mandates South Korea to rebuild the nation anew completely ― from the elimination of corrupt ties between politics and business to the unity of a society divided between conservatives and liberals.
Analysts said that the nation should now focus on uniting the divided nation instead of fanning conflict following the historic ruling.
The existence of arguments for and against the court decision is natural in a democratic society but, as the ruling was final and unchallengeable, it is also important to completely accept the result, they said.
Bae Jong-chan, the chief director of pollster Research and Research, said that the whole country should work together to build a wholly new Korea.
He said people should bear in mind the unchangeable fact that both pro- and anti-Park sides are South Korean citizens.
And among others, Park’s position at this point, is the most important, he said.
“She could have been totally shocked and thought that the court decision was unfair, but she should present her position to the people who are waiting for it,” he said. “She should tell the nation not to be divided anymore and her supporters that it is time to accept the court decision.”
Bae cited the case of former U.S. President Richard Nixon who resigned voluntarily before he was to face impeachment and prosecution in the 1974 Watergate scandal.
“At the time, Nixon said U.S. citizens and Congress should not waste time because of him,” Bae said.
He said Park’s acceptance of the court decision will be the first step toward rebuilding the nation, citing a Realmeter survey in which 92 percent of respondents said this was what she must do.
Bae added that a next president should also keep in mind, through the court ruling, that the people will not accept any leaders who do not communicate with the public.
Also, an increasing number of people are calling on the National Assembly and political parties to play their proper roles in resolving the crisis facing the country.
Rival parties have been criticized for frequent political strife and habitually boycotting parliamentary sessions.
Analysts say the parties should refrain from scoring points off each other and making inflammatory remarks to rally voters ahead of the early presidential election.
The election is expected to take place in early May, given the Constitution and the Election Law stipulate that it should be held within 60 days of an incumbent’s ouster.
Choi Chang-ryul, a professor of political science at Yongin University, noted that a reconciliatory mood in the Assembly is now more important than ever.
“Even before the presidential election, rival parties should promptly handle pending bills that will help create more jobs and improve the lives of the people,” he said. “Now, the parties should speak with one voice on controversial issues like the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery so that they can think of ways together to deal with China.”
Regarding the ongoing street rallies, Hwang Do-su, a professor of law at Konkuk University, said any rallies should take place peacefully, regardless of being for or against Park’s ouster, based on a mature sense of citizenship.
For his part, Park Jang-sun, an activist, said, that the impeachment was a victory for the people, who showed their distrust in politics.
“People used to be extremely doubtful about whether their actions could change things. This proved their actions mattered,” he said. “What happened during the last couple of months was a wake-up call to the people, and they’re now more enthusiastic about speaking out.”
Julie Kim, an immigration lawyer based in San Francisco, said, “I’m not proud of the scandal that’s brought our country down, but I’m proud that the people’s voices have been heard and a proper democratic system has been implemented.”
She said many non-Koreans have been exposed to the news surrounding Park’s scandal and the Constitutional Court’s ruling sets an ideal and proud example that Korea’s democracy is functioning well.
Underneath the people’s complaints against the Park administration were economic problems that have made their livelihoods harder and widened the division between the rich and poor.
“We can turn this crisis into an opportunity of improving the governance structures of our conglomerates so that similar misdeeds will not take place in the future,” Prof. Ha Joon-kyung at Hanyang University said.
“Also included in other imminent issues is how to grapple with the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.”
Prof. Sung Tae-yoon at Yonsei University said that the new administration, which will be in place in May, should focus on taking steps to boost sagging economic growth and keep snowballing household debt from further straining the economy.
“The incumbent economic officials should take care of macro-economic risks while containing the size of household debt so that they these do not surge amid the vacuum in the political leadership,” he said.
“We must employ all the means available to reform the economic structure and revive economic optimism among the people. It will be tough but it’s a challenge we must take on.”
Koreans in US also in celebration
Korean residents in the U.S. have been vocal by staging anti-Park protests across the nation and they have also celebrated the removal of Park from office.
“Words can’t express how thrilled I am to see that Korea’s democracy and justice are alive and well,” said Kim Jin-tae, 44, who attended numerous anti-Park protests held in the New York area since last summer. “Our number is few but we’ve worked hard for months to add our voice to all those back home. Despite the distance, we’ve achieved this result together.”
Stella Kim, 38, a mother of two in Los Angeles, said with tears, “We’ve fought long.”
Having attended more than a dozen anti-government protests throughout California since the Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014, Kim says the fight was long, but worth every second of it.
“We may live half way across the world from Korea, but we’ve been together from the beginning of this very long and tiring process,” she said. “I’ll do it all over again if, God forbid, I have to.”
Kim Chang-joo, a member of the Korean American Coalition in Los Angeles, said, “It has been common for overseas Koreans to feel isolated from Korea’s domestic politics and issues, but times have changed. Now that the world is more connected through various technology, Koreans living outside of Korea feel a lot closer to home even if they are physically far.”
Kim Tae-gyu and Jane Han also contributed to this article.