South Korea’s Candlelight Revolution in Pictures


Editor’s note: On Dec. 9, 2016, South Korea’s National Assembly impeached President Park Geun-hye; Her powers are now suspended until the Constitutional Court of Korea rules on whether Park should be removed from her office. We revisit the moments that shaped South Korea’s “Candlelight Revolution” in the run up to the impeachment vote. 

Oct. 29: the First Protest. Thousands of protesters crowd Cheonggye Plaza calling for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation. People’s discontent reached its peak after the public discovered that President Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil had been editing the president’s speeches and exerting influence on state affairs.

The protest drew a broad spectrum of people including families with children. Here, a protester helped light up a candle for a young mother and her daughter.

A sense of shame and anger was palpable on the part of the protesters.

After the protest, thousands march to Gwanghwamun Plaza in downtown Seoul.

Nov. 12: the Third Protest. Tourists wearing traditional Korean dresses took a selfie while police forces clogged pedestrian paths.

Police buses formed a long barricade around Gwanghwamun and blocked passage to the presidential office and resident, the Blue House.

Unionists and protesters crowded Gwanghwamun Plaza at the third anti-Park Geun-hye protest. This day marked the first anniversary of the People’s Uprising in November 2015, when farmer and activist Baek Nam-gi was knocked unconscious by blasts from police water cannons.

An estimated one million people came out.

Nov. 17: After the College Scholastic Ability Test, also known as the suneung exam, some 70 students come out to downtown Seoul to voice their anger and demand Park’s resignation.

Students, who belong to what has been dubbed the Sewol Generation, shouted slogans during the event.

Nov. 26, 2016: the Fifth Protest. Student volunteers tried to pick up items that they dropped. Light snow covered the streets before the fifth weekly anti-Park Geun-hye protest was to begin.

Despite the foul weather, an estimated 1.5 million people came out to downtown Seoul.

Dec. 3, 2016: the Sixth Protest. A family passed by police buses while a group of students put stickers on the vehicles. Some activists had come up with the idea of placing the stickers, in order to demand Park’s resignation and at the same time denounce the deployment of military conscripts as riot police — a practice that enables the South Korean state to marshal a large number of police officers for cracking down on protests at a very little cost.

Some protesters walked around wearing Park Geun-hye masks and prison uniforms in a satirical jab at the president.

On Dec. 3, an estimated 2.3 million people took to the streets all over South Korea – 1.6 million in Seoul alone – to voice their outrage after Park Geun-hye’s third televised address to the nation, on Nov. 29. Park had said she was leaving it to the National Assembly to come up with a plan for her exit, but people saw it as a gambit to stall the impeachment process. The protests continued for the sixth consecutive weekend, adding pressure on the government and the ruling Saenuri party.

The court allowed marching to within 100 meters of the Blue House, for the first time.

Park Geun-hye, Chaebol logos and chairmen. Protesters perceived the big South Korean corporations as accomplices in the Choi Soon-sil scandal. The demand on the streets changed from Park’s resignation to her arrest.

Dec. 8: the night before the impeachment vote. Parodies of Time Magazine’s Dec. 17, 2012 cover depicted Choi Soon-sil as “the strongman’s daughter’s shaman,” and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong as “the strongman’s daughter’s shaman’s backer.”

Protesters of all age kept watch on the National Assembly the night before the impeachment vote.

Dec. 9, 2016: the Impeachment Day. Teenage boys danced to the popular protest tune “South Korea Is a Democratic Republic” before the impeachment vote.

Unlike in the run up to the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun back in 2004, the atmosphere inside the National Assembly was orderly and almost relaxed.

After seven weeks of protesting and political struggle, the result came out: 234 to 56, in favor of Park’s impeachment. Parents of the Sewol ferry victims celebrated and said, “This is only the beginning.”

(Photos: Jun Michael Park/Korea Exposé)

Jun Michael Park is a freelance photographer and writer from Seoul, Korea.