Photo: National League of Catholic Priests for Justice holds a weekly Prayer Mass for Current Affairs. Credit: National League of Catholic Priests for Justice.
President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 vetoed the Nursing Act 간호법, provoking a massive protest from nurses. The veto was Yoon’s second in just one year in office, following his veto of the new Grain Management Act 양곡관리법 on April 4. Vetoes are rare in South Korea: Five out of seven democratically elected South Korean presidents exercised two or fewer vetoes during their terms. Yoon claimed that the Nursing Act was “causing excessive strife among medical professionals,” despite pledging to pass the Nursing Act during his presidential campaign.
On May 19, approximately 100k nurses from around the country took part in a protest organized by the Korean Nurses Association 대한간호협회 at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square 광화문 광장. The KNA said it would have its members return their certificates and engage in a “work to rule 준법 투쟁” action by following all legal requirements so scrupulously as to slow all work to a standstill.
In addition to the nurses’ protest, more than 24k members of the Korea Construction Workers’ Union 전국건설노동조합 held a two-day demonstration in Seoul’s City Hall Square from May 16 to 17, protesting an investigation of union officials by the Yoon administration that led to a suicide by self-immolation. (See Media Watch below.) This week saw the most protests against the Yoon administration since the last months of 2022, in the aftermath of the Itaewon Disaster that killed 159.
As of May 15, the Yoon administration has faced an unprecedented 105 Statements of Current Affairs 시국선언 from academic, religious and civic groups. Traditionally in South Korean politics, civic groups issue such statements to raise awareness about a crisis of leadership; mass issuances of Statements of Current Affairs have often foreshadowed significant turning points in South Korean politics, as in the cases of the 1987 June Struggle 6월 항쟁, which led to the fall of Chun Doo-hwan 전두환 dictatorship, and the 2016 Candlelight Protests 촛불시위, which resulted in the impeachment and removal of Park Geun-hye 박근혜.
Separately, the National League of Catholic Priests for Justice 천주교정의구현전국사제단 began a weekly Prayer Mass for Current Affairs 시국기도회 calling for Yoon’s resignation. The Catholic Priests’ League played an instrumental role in South Korea’s democracy movement in the 1970s and 80s as the vanguard of protests against the Park Chung-hee 박정희 and Chun Doo-hwan dictatorships. Protestant churches and Buddhist groups will also hold public demonstrations against the Yoon administration next week.