The nation marked the first anniversary of the candlelight protests that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on the weekend, but it is questionable whether politicians have properly met the people’s wishes for social reform.
The protests were a victory for people power, which brought down a corrupt government peacefully. They began at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on Oct. 29 a year ago and spread nationwide with a cumulative total of 17 million people joining them.
Protesters called for a new nation free of corruption. But the new future the people hoped for is not likely to come soon. The drive to uproot corruption led to concerns of political retaliation. There are no signs yet of a solution to widening social or economic inequality. The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations has only heightened people’s anxiety.
Candlelight protesters looked forward to politics becoming mature after a change of government. However, politicians have still not got out of their partisan rut.
The new government and the ruling party have interpreted the aspirations of candlelight protesters to their advantage and overturned policies of past governments under the pretext of eliminating harmful practices. Cooperation with opposition parties has hardly been seen.
Now, civic groups are calling for the arrest of Park’s predecessor, conservative President Lee Myung-bak. They argue that it will complete the candlelight revolution. Anti-US groups which participated in the candlelight protests, are urging the withdrawal of sanctions on North Korea, the impeachment of US President Donald Trump and the pullout of US forces and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system from Korea. Some 220 liberal groups, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, vowed to organize protests against Trump’s visit to Korea on Nov. 7 and 8.
The groups are inflaming the populace with calls that have nothing to do with the anti-Park candlelight protests.
The confederation, emboldened by Moon’s election, boycotted a dialogue with him, while demanding the release of its jailed leader. It was so unruly and audacious that it illegally occupied a sidewalk near the presidential office to stage a sit-in.
These groups want their own way all the time, branding anything against their will as evils to expunge. Their demands and behavior tarnish the spirit of the candlelight protests. People are concerned that the candlelit vigils they attended a year ago might have pushed the nation toward unlawfulness, self-righteousness and injustice, not toward the rule of law, democracy and justice.
The new government has been busy digging out the past conservative governments and discarding their policies. Words like harmony and future have been seldom heard. The presidential office just changed hands from a conservative one to a liberal one, with its dogmatic governing style remaining little changed.
The Moon administration was launched thanks largely to the candlelight protests, but the protesters did not want dogmatism. The new government will be no exception from popular aspiration for a just and fair society. Dogmatic governance cannot eliminate problems but rather engender new ones.
The spirit of the candlelight protests was not for the sake of a certain political party, but for the future of the whole nation. The protests were led by a vision of a properly working democracy. This is not a goal of conservatives or liberals, but of the whole nation. The protests will be complete when the nation overcomes conflicts over the past and goes forward through integration.
The Moon government placed the “removal of evils” first among his election pledges. However, if it is focused only on the past, its reform drive will lose momentum and drift eventually.
If reforms fail to establish a solid base for the future, the fight against these “evils” will go down in history as another failure.
Now is time for the Moon regime to reflect on whether it is venting its spite and to agonize over where it should lead the nation.