The wave of populism that fueled Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of Italian leader Matteo Renzi has reached South Korea, where street protesters see Friday's parliamentary vote to impeach President Park Geun-hye as a step toward toppling the establishment she symbolizes.
Hundreds of thousands of students and workers, young and old, have filled thoroughfares in Seoul and South Korea's major cities with candlelit protests since an influence-peddling scandal involving the president erupted in October. Slogans and banners demand not only her ouster, but also the breakup of the ruling party and the family-run chaebol conglomerates they call "accomplices."
With revelations linking the executive office to the chaebol, South Korean voters have decried the ties that once underpinned the nation's rapid growth. Park, whose single, five-year term would end in early 2018, and the wealthy families that dominate the economy have come under fire from opposition lawmakers as income inequality widens, youth unemployment soars and the nation's once-mighty steel mills and shipyards languish.
"It's our fury against the establishment that burns in those candles," said Lee Hyung-jin, a labor activist in Ulsan. "If the opposition fails to impeach Park, it will prove they, too, are part of the establishment that betrayed us and served Park. Protests may turn violent."
Sustained public anger among the 50-million population could mean that "outsiders" rise in the next election. If Park is impeached, and parliament's decision is legalized by the constitutional court, an election would be held within eight months at most from now.