South Korean voters were set to head to the polls on April 15 for general elections to their National Assembly against a backdrop of anger, confusion, and daily protests against the impeachment of President Roh Moo-Hyun.

Roh was impeached on March 12, mainly on the basis of alleged “illegal electioneering activities.” His offense – stating that he was not a member of the left-of-center Uri Party but would like to become one – amounted to a minor, non-criminal breach of the election code, according to the national elections commission.

Nevertheless, through a combination of unprecedented strong-arm tactics and maneuvers, the right wing was able to push through his impeachment in a lopsided vote.

The current National Assembly has 273 members, but virtually all of Roh’s supporters, at least 93 deputies, were absent from the vote. After unsuccessfully trying to filibuster, they were physically removed from the chambers by the opposition. The vote was surrounded by chaos, with anti-impeachment members attempting to charge back into the hall. The measure passed, 195-2.

The driving force behind the impeachment was the Grand National Party (GNP), which has links to the country’s military dictatorship of the 1980s. The GNP has been unhappy with Roh because they perceive him to be too friendly to North Korea and too “soft” on labor.

Voting with the GNP, however, were some members of the Millennium Democratic Party, who were angry with Roh’s resignation from their party earlier this year.

South Korea has been swept with a wave of protest as people have been angrily taking to the streets, with many calling the impeachment a coup d’etat. Many have noted that the impeachment will serve U.S. corporate and military interests in the region.

Roh’s impeachment gave rise to the People’s Emergency Action to Nullify the Impeachment, a coalition of over 500 organizations, one of which was the powerful Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. On March 13, the day after the impeachment, there was a rally of at least 70,000 people in Seoul. Since then, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated daily, often in direct defiance of court injunctions banning such actions and in the face of police intimidation. On March 20, up to 1 million people took part in demonstrations against both the Iraq war and the impeachment.

The prime minister, who by South Korean law is picked as a compromise between the president and parliament, will serve as president until a court decides on the legality of the impeachment. It has 180 days to do so.

In the run-up to the April 15 parliamentary elections, Roh’s political organization, the Uri Pary, was leading by 20 percent as of April 2, when further opinion polls were banned by the state’s national election commission. Many observers consider Uri’s high poll numbers to be a combination of support for its relatively progressive policies, as well as sympathy for what is considered to be an unjust impeachment.

While they are critical of President Roh because of his labor policies and his decision to send troops into Iraq, a joint statement of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Korean Peasants League, and the Democratic Labor Party said, “Let the people rise and pass judgment on the conservative politics responsible for the impeachment situation and the failure to guarantee the livelihood of the people. The 1.4 million workers, 400,000 peasants, and public citizens longing for progressive politics have no way to suppress their indignation as they have become aware of the unprecedented impeachment of the president on the 12th of March.”

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.

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