Protesters took to the streets of major cities in South Korea last Saturday to demand the resignation of president Park Geun-hye.
It was the fourth round of mass weekend protests since late October. In Seoul, the capital city, 600,000 people protested.
Just before the nationwide protest, Park stressed that she would neither step down nor accept a prosecutor’s investigation. She even ordered an investigation into a separate scandal and hinted that some opposition leaders are involved.
Another rally organised by the moderate trade union confederation FKTU also mobilised 30,000 trade unionists for the protest in Seoul.
This is a significant development. FKTU has supported the presidential candidate from the current ruling party since 2007.
Workers on the protests showed clear support for the social-democratic Justice Party over other opposition parties.
High school senior students were also prominent on the protests. They had just finished college entrance tests and were angry at the university admission fraud perpetrated by Park’s cronies.
One student said, “We are suffering under competition-driven education imposed by the government, while their children were enjoying free tickets.”
Many people also protested over a ferry disaster that killed some 300 young people two years ago, and denounced the government’s attempted cover-up.
Later, the protesters marched along eight different routes. All of them were led by either the more militant KCTU union federation or left wing political organisations.
This is a big difference from the mass movement in 2008, when organised workers and the left were told to attend as individuals.
The change reflects the fact that the current movement is encouraged by the organised workers’ struggle in recent years.
Prosecutors named Park as “a criminal suspect” last Sunday.
It was another political blow for her. Yet the prosecution didn’t charge Park with bribery, significantly lowering the sentence she could be given.
It also lets big capitalists—including Samsung and Hyundai Motors who bribed the president—off the hook.
Opposition parties want Park to be impeached—a procedure that can take as long as eight months.
But impeachment could be frustrated if popular, working class mobilisation is not strong enough.
Opposition parties including the Justice Party believe they should take on Park, not the movement from below.
They are afraid that the movement might target big capitalists. The Justice Party shamefully demanded that rail workers stop striking on Monday of this week.
The movement is quickly approaching a political crossroad. Parliamentary negotiations can only lead to a dead end. We are arguing for more street protests and workplace strikes. There was set to be another round of mass protests this Saturday.
Workers’ revolt fuelled by anger at a corruption crisis that has deep roots
Current president Park Geun-hye is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the military dictator who ruled South Korea for over 18 years until 1979.
The state capitalist regime offered big economic opportunities for handpicked capitalists.
Park Geun-hye acted as “first lady” for the last five years of that regime after her mother was killed in a failed assassination attempt on the dictator. So the roots of the current scandal date back years.
When Park was elected in 2012 it was widely suspected that there was election fraud involving the state security agency.
Yet many people expected that she would bring back the economic boom of her father’s days.
But the economic situation deteriorated and expectations turned to bitterness and anger.
Now workers’ struggles have deepened the political crisis of the ruling party, which lost its parliamentary majority in April’s general election.
This anger is behind the current huge movement creating a political crisis for Park’s presidency.
It was sparked by the revelation that Park had long kept a secret “adviser”, Choi Soon-sil, and was involved in a corruption network with major capitalists.
Infighting among various sections of the ruling class has also produced a series of detailed revelations that fuel public anger. South Korea’s rulers are under pressure from increasing economic uncertainty.