March 12, 2004
The evening’s “cultural festival” was thinly disguised. Fifty thousand people in Seoul’s city center were pretending not to demonstrate, because the new interim government had declared evening demonstrations illegal. President Roh Moon-Hyun’s impeachment one day earlier, replayed on television, looked more like a saloon brawl. Uri Party members who supported President Roh were forcibly carried out by their necks and feet. Outraged, they threw shoes at the members of the two majority parties. Amid the chaos, the Assembly chairman managed to count enough hands to declare the impeachment official. Some Uri members dropped to their knees, crying, and began doing full bows on the floor to beg forgiveness for failing to protect the president.
President Roh was an outsider from the beginning: he never went to university, yet easily passed Korea’s arduous public prosecutor exams—which take many of the brightest, best-educated Koreans more than five years to pass—and made a life as a lawyer for the voiceless. The wealthy, elitist National Assembly members couldn’t stand his poor country manners. Korean presidents are bound by law to remain party-neutral, so when Roh mentioned, in his off-the-cuff way, that he would join the new Uri party after elections were over, the Assembly saw its chance. Roh’s comment and the other charges against him were minor violations, considering all the past presidents who have embezzled millions, spied, and had their enemies locked up. The public was outraged.