The most spirited cries of the day came just after 4 pm. Teary friends shouted, embraced, threw their hands in the air. About a minute earlier, the boisterous music had been halted, and audio from the National Assembly was pumped in. In an flat tone of voice, the speaker announced that in a vote that wasn’t close — 234 in favor to 56 against — President Park Geun-hye had been impeached.
After a couple of minutes of celebration, the music returned, a bouncy tune with a chorus that translates as “South Korea is a democratic republic.” It was a moment when South Korean democracy took a deep breath, and exhaled.
Hundreds of protesters had started gathering outside the National Assembly on Thursday evening in anticipation of the vote. On Friday, the atmosphere toggled between lighthearted and antagonistic, as citizens sang, danced, and intermittently clashed with riot police who tried to keep them off the road.
At the fence that separated the gathering from the legislature’s grounds, a man on stage strained his vocal chords as he whipped up the crowd with chants calling for Park to be arrested. “Turn and shout your anger at the police!” he exhorted more than once, leading the crowd to direct deep-throated boos and hisses at the officers on duty.
A tense scene broke out in the afternoon when a police tow truck came to drag away a farmer’s tractor that was parked on the road in front of the legislature. The farmers let loose a litany of foul language as they tussled with police who tried to restrain them from blocking the tow truck.
Dozens of farmers had driven tractors from the countryside to the capital to voice their displeasure with the Park administration, which they accuse of failing to make good on a campaign promise to prop up rice prices. The tractors had been left in Pyeongtaek, about an hour south of Seoul, but one determined farmer had driven his steed all the way to the doorstep of South Korea’s legislature.
Some farmers had been in Seoul since Dec. 3 for the weekly candlelight protest. They named their group after Jeon Bong-jun, a leader of the 1894 Donghak Peasant Movement, which saw an armed revolt against government tyranny and corruption.
Kim Jeong-seob, a member of the Korean Peasants League Boseong branch, saw parallels between the greedy Joseon dynasty officials Jeon and his fellow peasants rose up against in 1894 and President Park and Choi Soon-sil. “In many ways, the government hasn’t changed. Powerful people exploit those beneath them. That’s why we felt we had to come here,” Kim said in an interview.
Protesters also took issue with police officers using cameras to film them. “Get your camera down! It’s illegal,” middle-aged men repeatedly shouted at police filming the crowds.
But there were others beside the crowd of unionists and activists seen at many public protests in Seoul. Park Min-ah, a middle-aged housewife dressed in a fur-trimmed parka and gold earrings, much of her face covered by Dolce & Gabbana shades, stood in front of the National Assembly, holding a black placard calling for Park to resign.
“She’s very disgusting,” Park said of the President. “It’s like she has the mind of a prostitute. I think she does drugs.”
Park said she took advantage of her privileged position as a housewife to come out and protest. “Most people have to work, or they’re scared what their colleagues will think of them if they go to protests. I don’t care,” she said.
After celebrating the results, people started trickling into the National Assembly Metro Station, creating long lines on the platform composed of people getting the details of Park’s impeachment on their phones. They seemed like fans of a victorious home team leaving the stadium after a big game.