President Park relinquishes power under pressure from civic groups

Peaceful Assembly

A recent political corruption scandal related to President Park Geun-hye placed South Korea in the international spotlight. The extent of President Park's alleged complicity in a corruption and embezzlement scheme snowballed; eventually involving a variety of companies and prominent individuals in an intricate web of influence, coercion and corruption in South Korea. As the evidence of the scale of the scandal continues to emerge, and in the wake of mass public mobilisations, on 29th November President Park announced her willingness to resign:

'I will leave to parliament everything about my future including shortening of my term...I will step down from my position according to the law once a way is formed to pass on the administration in a stable manner that will also minimise political unrest and vacuum after ruling and opposition parties' discussion.'

The beleaguered president had come under immense pressure to step down from South Korean civic groups. Many groups have also drawn attention to the decrease in respect for civic freedoms, in particularly protest rights during her tenure.

The sustained period of citizen action leading to Park's resignation saw up to a million people taking to the streets in South Korea. A broad base of citizens came together to paralyse Seoul in an evolving movement that also sought to address deeper issues, including dissatisfaction over poor social mobility, entrenched inequality and rising living costs in South Korea. While the weekly protests calling for her resignation did not turn violent, the mobilisations were carefully controlled by security forces.

Restrained policing of protests was marred by the presence of water cannons and security forces dressed in riot gear. As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, the death of protestor Baek Namgi after the deployment of a water cannon in 2015 prompted many to question the heavy handed use of force by South Korean security forces. 

In contrast to the acts of vandalism by protesters in the past, the recent wave of demonstrations saw protesters decorating the police bus blockades with stickers and messages of solidarity. In keeping with pragmatic nature of the demonstration, protesters were widely applauded for clearing up after mobilisations. The recent mass rallies are considered to be the largest and most peaceful in South Korean history. 

Expression 

Investigative journalism has been praised for revealing the corruption scandal and raising public awareness. As outrage grows around the collusion between political and economic elites, scrutiny of South Korean media has also increased. There is hope that this scandal will improve media plurality and prevent biased and overly regulated media outlets in South Korea. 

Association

Starting in late September unions of subway and railroad workers launched a strike protesting against a new performance-based salary system. The strike has so far been non-violent as negotiations continue between the laborers and the establishment. South Korea is widely recognised for its lack of adequate provisions for worker's rights.