By Jane Han
The fifth candlelit protest against embattled President Park Geun-hye drew more than 1.9 million protesters across South Korea, Saturday, but will Cheong Wa Dae budge this time?
It should, says a renowned U.S. expert on the Korean Peninsula.
"The importance of these demonstrations should not be underestimated," David Steinberg, a professor at Georgetown University and former representative of the Asia Foundation in Korea, said in an interview with The Korea Times.
"Conservative, respected and rather elderly professors have joined the demonstrations, which speaks to their importance and the widespread sense of grievance."
In the first four consecutive rallies held in the heart of Seoul, collectively more than a million people, including hundreds of professors from the country's top universities, have taken to the streets to demand that the scandal-ridden President step down.
"We should not forget that when professors joined the April 19, 1960, demonstrations against Syngman Rhee, his fate was effectively sealed," Steinberg said. "Their presence indicates the importance of the problem to the electorate."
A large group of professors from Seoul National University, the most selective university in the nation, took part in Saturday's anti-government rally.
Steinberg says any use of force against the demonstrators would create even worse problems and only intensify the backlash against the President.
"The days of using the military against civilians in Korea are long over, and the police might well be reluctant to act against demonstrators who are clearly not a radical or a fringe group, but represent a wide sweep of the population," he said.
Park and prosecutors are waging a tug-of-war over the high-profile investigation that could effectively prove the President's involvement in a massive influence-peddling corruption scandal through which Park shared classified documents with her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and allegedly granted her the power to rake in money from large corporations.
Park continues to refuse to face questioning by prosecutors, which Steinberg says is "politically unsound."
"It exacerbates the sense of betrayal by the President and the perceived illegal roles of her trusted advisers," he said. "Her only course is to open an investigation by an impartial legal committee that would act quickly, let us say, by the end of this year, and if the findings turn out to be negative, then she should resign."