The first female president of South Korea has been impeached. Park Geun-hye fell out of favor with the South Korean public after months of surmounting evidence of corruption. Allegations piled up after stories broke regarding Park’s financial ties to the president of the Samsung corporation and suspicious connections to a shamanistic confidant. Despite only having a year left on her term, the population of South Korea was able to place enough pressure on the ruling party to have the sitting president ousted. The process began in December of 2016 with a vote by the South Korean senate to impeach, and was finalized on March 10, 2017 when the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the impeachment proceedings. Park spent two days in the presidential office known as the “blue house” before finally acknowledging the ruling and stepping down. Stripped of her title, she is no longer impervious to multiple charges of corruption and will likely face many battles in court.
South Korea is no stranger to controversy and corruption in their highest ranks. Years of fascist leaders and McCarthy-esque policies led to sudden and violent revolts from the public, ushering in a relatively new age of democracy on the backs of bloody protests. The past thirty years has been relatively stable for the prospering country, with a two party political system and democratic votes of the public. The impeachment of Park Geun-hye marks yet another point in the South Korean people’s struggle for a fair democracy. Tired of widespread corruption and shady politics, the people took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations of protest. This “candle light revolution” was as much about fighting the systemic problems of the government as it was the gaff-ridden president. A majority of the protesters were younger voters, and they turned up in record numbers in an unprecedented display of solidarity. Over a twenty week period millions of people marched through the streets of Seoul every Saturday, holding candles in protest of the wrongdoings of their leadership. Despite a large police presence and the sheer number of people, these protests were uniformly peaceful. Without the violence of previous uprisings the South Koreans revolted against the failures of the system, and they succeeded.
Recent political unrest in the United States of America has had people clamoring for a revolution of their own. Calls to “resist” and murmurings of impeachment have boiled up after Donald Trump’s inauguration. From his financial ties with the Trump brand, dealing with corrupt political powers, and a series of executive orders that haven’t sat well with voters, Trump’s approval ratings continue to drop.
While the systems in place ensured a functional impeachment process in South Korea, the United States has a different political culture. Like South Korea, the United States has a two party system and a constitution, but little beyond that is comparable. The United States Constitution is weighed upon much more heavily than that of South Korea’s, and it’s democracy much older. The left and right parties in the United States are deeply entrenched with little evidence that either party would openly support an impeachment process of their own candidate without overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing. Impeachment is not a forgone conclusion, however. In 1998 Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives while sustaining a much higher approval rating than Trump’s current numbers. If the people of America were to make a stand and place pressure on their elected officials, something would most certainly change. As the elections stemming from the Tea Party movement proved, a vocal populace is still a force to be reckoned with in the American political system.
In January millions of Americans took part in the Women’s March as a sign of solidarity with women as well as a rebuke against the recent election of Donald Trump. In cities across the nation people peacefully marched as a call to their cause, a display of both the hopes and frustrations of a people feeling marginalized and powerless at the hands of their governmental system. This was a peaceful, productive protest that drew attention to the cause at hand. But in order to have a real effect, the protests must continue.
America’s current political climate displays strong authoritarian elements, and threatens to see its democratic system failing at the hands of an inept media and complacent populace. The people of South Korea stood up for their hard-fought democracy: they stood shoulder to shoulder in streets across the nation, silently holding candles to the sky in a show of solidarity against a broken system. Against all odds, the people stood, and the leadership listened. Americans could replicate this success if they wanted to. Revolutions require persistence and resilience, they require people to be uncomfortable and to make their elected officials nervous. The candle light revolution of South Korea proves that when people stand together, powerful people can be held accountable. Though the election may be over, even the President of the United States still answers to the public.