National Museum Of Korean Contemporary History

Educational Materials

home > Education and Cultural Events > Educational Materials

Democracy in South Korea


Democracy in South Korea

The Economist, the British economic news weekly, assesses the democracies of 167 countries worldwide according to the following five criteria:

Is the electoral process free and fair?
Are the government functions rational?
Are citizens allowed to engage in politics freely?
Is the political culture developing?
Are the freedoms and rights of citizens respected?

What of the results?

In Asia, aside from Japan
The Republic of Korea alone is a full democracy

But, Korea’s history with democracy has been turbulent
Two Coupd’états
Two people with dreams of being president-for-life
Three forcible dissolutions of parliament
Nine constitutional amendments

Let us look again this history,
the history of Korean democracy which emerged as true and full democracy from the establishment of the republic for all the twists and turns.


1. The creation of constitutional democracy, and the introduction of a democratic system

Democratic politics took several centuries to emerge in the West.
In South Korea, though, it was introduced all at once, in 1948
Thus, the foundations of Korean democracy were very weak.

35 years of Japanese colonial rule.

A time when the Korean people could not exercise the power and freedoms as members of a sovereign nation, or the obligations as citizens of such a nation.

After liberation
The Korean people were to build a country
Not knowing what democracy, a nation state or the rights and responsibilities of the citizen are.

Right up until the establishment of the republic, violent struggle with leftist forces continued.
Korean democracy was formed from a less than perfect beginnings, as the basic rights and freedoms of the people were infringed amidst the violent tumult.

However, Korea already had some historical experiences that made it ready to accept the foreign idea of democracy.

In the Joseon period, the Inspectorates (Sahyeonbu) and the Advisory Committees(Saganwon) restrained and criticized the monarch and his bureaucracy. Noble landowning intellectuals outside the corridors of power also critiqued government policy, making appeals against decisions made, thus a public politics existed. Later on, this led to criticism of power politics by the media and intelligentsia.

In the late stages of the dynasty, there was much discussion about a new political system, creation of a parliament, the adoption of a constitution and republican government. After the 1st March Movement, the Provisional government of the Republic of Korea chose republican democratic governance as the basic framework for the future government of Korea.

10th May 1948
The first election, with universal on the Korean peninsula in which the people can exercise sovereignty as masters of their own destinies.
95.5% turnout, a staggering fact, bespeaks the passion of Korean people in forming a new democratic order.

A constitutional convention of 198 people meet on 17th July of the same year to promulgate a constitution.

And on 15th August, with the declaration establishing a government, a democratic system is introduced and the Republic of Korea formed.

Article 1 (of the constitution)
The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic
Article 2
The sovereignty of the republic resides with its citizens, and all power comes from the citizenry.

Universal suffrage, freedom of speech, the press, protest and association were guaranteed.

While private property was protected,
and the free market economy was chosen – a system that respects the freedom and creativity of the individual and company.

The government was centred on the office of the president
but, the National Assembly selected the president and the vice president, also having the right to appoint the prime minister. So there were elements of a cabinet system too.
This represented a compromise between the constitutional convention that wanted a cabinet government, and Syngman Rhee, who wanted a presidential system.
At the time, the majority of constitutional convention was nonpartisan and political parties were only in its forming stage.

During the Korean War, Syngman Rhee demanded an amendment to the constitution that mean direct election of the president rather than their selection by the National Assembly. The National Assembly countered by demanding a constitutional change to cabinet government.

After both failed, in July 1952, Rhee mobilized the regular and military police, as well as supporter groups to forcibly suppress the National Assembly.
Thus pushing through direct presidential election.

This damaged the democratic system,
but a power structure in which the president was selected by the people was created.


2. The emergence of authoritarianism

Subsequently, the Syngman Rhee government began down a path of authoritarianism.
This was partially due to the effects of the Korean War, and partly due to the political wilfulness of Syngman Rhee himself.

Millions of lives devastated by the war, anti-communism at fever pitch, South Korean politics became increasingly conservative, the politics of the right in the ascent.

The first opposition party in Korean political history, the Korean Democratic Party, and its successor, the Democratic National Party, along with the Democratic party that followed it, were all political parties that represented landlords and property owners. They showed as much strong anti-communist tendencies as the ruling Liberal Party.

State institutions, including the police and military, became more rigid, while freedom of thought was suppressed.
Anti-communism propelled political power in an authoritarian direction.

It was Syngman Rhee, though, above all else
who was the mastermind behind this process.

In September 1945, even the Left selected him as president of the Korean People’s Republic.
He thought that he was the man who had to lead,
and demanded that the people and other political factions unite around him.

Kang Won-Taek / Seoul National University, Political Science Professor
Q. What was the status of Syngman Rhee?
Syngman Rhee, as is clear from the fact that both Left and Right saw him as the rightful president, was a person respected and supported by a large swathe of the people. He was a person with a great authority immediately following liberation.

Shin Bok-ryong / Former professorial chair at Kunkook University
Q. What was Syngman Rhee’s political line?
This is a very complex question…. He used to often say, as if by mistake, ‘my beloved people, me of royal descent.’
His cabinet meeting were run as clubs of Rhee promoters, that’s the kind of charisma he had.

In 1954, approaching the end of his term in office, sought to amend the constitution to get rid of term limits, choosing the path of a would-be president for life.
And thus an authoritarian system centred on one man, engineered to guarantee his grip on power, was created through a constitutional amendment.
While procedural democracy was maintained at the ballot box and representatives kept in place, the abuse of power by the power elect worsened.

Lee Jeong-hee / Political Science Professor, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
Q. What were the characteristics of Syngman Rhee authoritarianism?
Personally, his experience during the independence struggle, his blood ties, his education, these kinds of things seemed the background to his particular style of patriarchal authoritarianism.

Syngman Rhee was a leader to be venerated and respected by the people.
The 1956 Liberal Party election poster had as its slogan: “Let’s promote the great Syngman Rhee Phd., father of the nation, again as president.”

The poster for the 1960 election read: “let’s promote once again the man who has given all 80 years of his life in the serve of the nation.”

What’s more, from 1955 onward, every year on 26th March
a government-backed celebration of Syngman Rhee’s birthday took place in all major cities.
On the day, public employees were given the day off, while the ban on night-time travel was also lifted just for the day.

However, while this was a period of deepening authoritarianism, it was also a time of democratic progress.

First, a political party system with both government and opposition developed.

In the early 1950s, with the constitutional change to directly-elected presidents, two parties in direct competition emerged: the pro-Rhee ruling party and the anti-Rhee opposition party.

Lee Jeong-hee / Political Science Professor, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
Q. What led to the creation of a two party system in Korea?
It was the split of political forces into factions that supported and opposed Syngman Rhee that led to the beginnings of the emergence of a two party system. With the formation of the Democratic Party under Shin Ik-hee in 1955, we can see the establishment, proper of the two party system.

Kim Yong-ho / Political Science Professor, Inha University
Q. What led to the creation of a two party system in Korea?
A tradition of two parties, ruling and opposition, was basically kept through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Second, elections were used as a device to reflect the popular will.

“This cannot go on, time for a change”, “change won’t make any difference.”

The May 1956 Presidential and Vice Presidential elections became an intense battle between the ruling and opposition parties.

Shin Ik-hee, the main opposition party’s candidate died suddenly while campaigning, and thus Syngman Rhee was easily reelected. However, Chang Myon, the opposition Vice Presidential candidate was elected his deputy.

Two years later, in the Assembly Elections, the opposition made large gains.

Third, and most importantly, this was a period in which a generation educated in the values of freedom, equality and the sovereignty of the people in the democratic process emerged.

After the armistice was signed, elementary education became mandatory, and by the late 1950s, 99% of children of the right age were in elementary school. At the same time, there was a steep rise in the number of students enrolled at middle and high school, as well as university.
Students learnt in school the principle of the sovereignty of the people, the basic rights of the citizen, the right to engage in the political process, i.e. Western democratic principles and values.

Kang Won-taek / Political Science Professor, Seoul National University
Q. What part did education play in the 19th April Revolution of 1960?
How could it have happened? I think that education played a huge role.
I think education in democracy, and through that, learning of liberal democracy, was simply crucial.

The development of two party politics, the holding of elections, and education in democratic values became the force behind the 19th April Revolution that overthrew the Syngman Rhee regime.

In 1960, Syngman Rhee was already an old man, at 85. But Cho Byeong-ok, the opposition candidate died one month before the day of the election, thereby guaranteeing that Rhee’s re-election. The problem was the Vice Presidential election.

Because the vice president would take over, if the president died or was incapacitated, the Liberal Party absolutely had to win the Vice Presidential Election.

The Rhee regime conducted a campaign of mass rigging that included creating phantom voters, mobilizing government power to intimidate voters, having open group voting in groups of 3-5, voting for those who did not vote, switching ballot boxes and faking votes.

Thanks to this, Lee Gi-bung got close to 80% 0f the vote in the election, but the result was not recognized by the people.

People began protests in the major cities of the country on the day of the election.

People were enraged when the police opened fire on the protests, killing marchers.
In Masan on 11th April the dead body of high school student called Kim Ju-yeol was discovered – who had gone missing on the day of the election while protesting – tear bomb still lodged in his eyes.

This inflamed public opinion against the rigged election, and protests erupted in Masan and all other major cities, including Seoul.
The indiscriminate fire by the police on protestors, that included many students, killed about 100 and injured 450. The government moved to declare a martial law.

In response, the United States urged Syngman Rhee to resign,
the army watched on as protests continued.
With the army refusing to take action, the people continuing to resist and American pressure, Rhee resigned. Thus, Korea’s first authoritarian government fell.

Kim Yong-ho/ Political Science Professor, Inha University
Q. What is the significance of the 19th April Revolution in South Korean political history?
After the 19th April Revolution, no ruling group could repudiate liberal democracy.
What’s more, dictators had to justify their seizure of power as being a temporary limiting of freedoms. They could not deny the value of liberal democracy, they emphasized the temporary nature of the restrictions on freedom.
Hence, the 19th April Revolution was crucial, it played an important role in creating a spirit of liberal democracy and popular sovereignty in Korea.


3. Military Coup, the emergence of a new ruling group

Following Rhee’s resignation, the opposition Democratic Party led a constitutional reform process that resulted in the adoption of a cabinet government system.
In the elections that followed, the Democratic Party won in a landslide,
but they were divided over whether old group centred on Yun Posun, or the new group centred on Chang Myon should take on the crucial prime minister.
Yun became president, Chang prime minister, but the demands of the people, so long suppressed, erupted, creating social chaos.

To the military, this presented an opportunity.

During the Korean War, the military had become more modern and organized than any other social group.

Before the war, the army was composed of a mere 100,000 men, but by the late 1950s it had increased by more than seven times. The officer corps had similarly increased rapidly in size.
The United States hosted a thousand Korean officers and non-commissioned officers in exchange programs each year, by this point this amounted to 9,000 men who had visited the US to participate in exchanges.
This allowed many service personnel to learn about modern military technology and advanced organizational management techniques, while also being educated in rationalism and efficiency.
They also acquired a sense of responsibility for the state.

These young officers became disillusioned with their older superiors, and increasingly found themselves in conflict with their way of doing things.
Following the revolution, they called on older officers to retire and for reform of the military, but such calls were ignored.

As a result, Kim Jong-pil, a leading figure calling for reform left the military, while Park Chung-hee was demoted to a less important post.

The Chang Myon government did not take the threat of revolt from the Park Chung-hee-led group of officers seriously.

What they did not know as that they had all but collapsed from within as the army Chief of staff was already working with the Park group.

Park Chung-hee and his co-conspirators initiated their coup in the early hours of the morning on 16th May 1961.

A small force of 3,600 soldiers, including a brigade of marines from Kimpo, occupied army headquarters, major government institutions and KBS broadcasting center.
Neither Prime Minister Chang nor President Yun made any serious efforts to resist.
Chang Myon lay low, while Yun Poson refused to demand that the head of US forces in Korea intervene to suppress the coup.
As a result, the coup was tacitly accepted by the United States as well.

The coup leaders formed the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, mobilizing extra-legal force to deal with social unrest while beginning a program of economic development.

The Park Chung-hee military government sought to transform itself into a civilian administration through the ballot box.

In order to do this, it created the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) as the government’s principle security organ, and organized a political party through which the military would participate in elections.

December 1962, a constitutional amendment creating a directly-elected presidential system is approved in a referendum.

October 1963, Park Chung-hee, coup leader, beats Yun Poson, president in the Democratic Party administration in the presidential election.

A close result, with Park receiving 4.7 million votes to Yun’s 4.55 million.

So it was that the coup leaders donned suits and appeared, on the surface, to become civilian leaders.

At the same time, democratic party-based politics and representative government was restored.

From his first year in office, Park sought to normalize relations with Japan.

His second-in-command, Kim Jong-pil, head of the KCIA, met with Japanese foreign minister Ohira in November 1962 and agreed on the amount of aid that Japan would pay Korea.

Following this, in spring 1964 the new Park government rushed to reach a settlement.

The opposition party and students saw this as a shameful betrayal of the nation, and began struggle to resist the proposed normalization.

From March 1964, protests became more serious. Park saw them as opposition without alternative and mobilized the military to suppress them.

3rd June, another massive protest erupts, and martial law is declared.
The next year in August, as the National assembly was about to ratify the Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty, the Garrison Act was invoked across Seoul.
Thus, Park Chung-hee, in his early years, mobilized the military to deal with weak public support for his government.

By around 1965, though, the economic development began apace,
and Park Chung-hee was able to easily win re-election in 1967.
This time around, Park won handsomely, with 5.69 million votes to Yun Poson’s 4.53 million, a 1.16 million vote margin.

The National Assembly elections held soon after, sparked controversy, with allegations of rigging, when the ruling Republican Party managed secure a 2/3 majority that would enable Park to amend the constitution.

In 1969, Park began a push for a third term amendment to the constitution.

Those who supported Kim Jong-pil, second in the party, opposed the amendment,
while the opposition party and students resisted.
However, Park once again mobilized the KCIA and army in order to pass the amendment.

What’s more, he managed to beat the young Kim Dae-jung, opposition candidate, in the 1971 presidential election, becoming the third term president.

But, in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
amid rapid change in the global situation, with Sino-American rapprochement, on the pretext of improving state security and continuing economic development, he attempted to stay in power longer.

North Korea had become increasingly provocative, militarily, even sending special forces to attack the Blue House. With defeat in the Vietnam, the US signalled that they would no longer be prepared to intervene in Asia, and they also began withdrawing forces from Korea.

The Cold War was also changing in other ways too, with not only the US, but also Japan seeking to normalize relations with China.

To Park, this presented both a security and state crisis.

He thought that only he could resolve this crisis, and that he had to remain at the helm.

In October 1972, Park once again mobilized the military, declaring martial law and suspending the constitution.

Under in the tense atmosphere of martial law, a new constitution was put to a referendum and approved.

No longer was the president to be directly elected, rather the president was selected by Unification People’s Congress, in what was called a ‘gym election’.

The people had thus lost their right to choose their own government.

The president also had the authority to dissolve parliament and put in place emergency measures, while 1/3 of the National Assembly was, in reality, selected by the president himself.

Thus, only a shell remained of representative democracy and the separation of powers.

And so it was that the Yushin political system was created: one-man rule, Park Chung-hee alone, with power he could need.

However, in the February 1973 National assembly elections, the people did not support this new system.

Though the ruling Republican Party raised their vote to 39%,
the opposition New Democracy Party and the Democratic Unification Party secured a combined 43% of the vote.

Kim Dae-jung’s kidnap that summer,
sparked intensified resistance to the Yushin system.

Students and opposition-minded intellectuals, as well as religious people, demanded that the Yushin constitution be amended, and began a constitutional amendment petition campaign.

The Park Chung-hee government, moved to suppress the movement and arrest those who resisted.

In 1974, the Federation of Democratic Young Students affair involving allegations that a nationwide student movement organization hoped to start a violent revolution occurred, along with People’s Revolutionary Party reformation committee affair.
In the People’s Revolutionary Party Affair, eight of those involved were sentenced to death, and the sentences were carried out immediately.

In the spring of 1975, the three states of Indochina, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos fell to communism. Fears mounted that if one region went communist others would follow, like a domino.

Park Chung-hee promulgated the decisive emergency measure: No. 9, that closed the eyes and mouths of the people, tying their hands and feet.

With this, the authoritarian system stabilized.

In the meantime, general heavy and chemical industrialization, and rapid growth continued.
The economic expansion of 1976 to 1978 was even known as the most prosperous of Golden Ages in Korean history.

But the political situation did not remain calm for long, a new crisis soon ensued.

The U.S. Carter administration, sworn in 1977, sought to pursue a foreign policy grounded in human rights, and was sharply critical of the Korean human rights situation.

In response, student protests demanding a return to constitutional democracy started again.

The common people could not but remain silent in the face of police and secret police surveillance and repression.

However, the aversion of the people to Park’s dictatorial rule grew.

The major of people sought to signal their disgust with the situation, through the electoral process, restricted and controlled though the process was.
Thus, in the General Election of late 1978, more of the electorate voted for the opposition than for the ruling party, thus demonstrating that the government no longer represented the people.

Yun Seong-I / Political Science Professor, Kyunghee University
Q. In spite of the economic boom, why did the opposition get more votes in the ’78 General Election?
The economic growth of the 1970s did sure up support for the Park Chung-hee government to a certain extent, but it also created a middle class. This meant that people’s consciousness was raised, a spirit of criticism and resistance was formed.
The boom, in part, helped to Park Chung-hee to maintain his grip on power, but at the same time, the emerging middle class increasingly became organized as a force of resistance to his rule – a group who clearly saw the negative aspects to the political situation.

Kang Won-taek / Political science professor, Seoul National University
Q. What was the significance of the opposition’s high vote in the 1978 Assembly Elections?
The opposition getting more votes in December 1978 was a serious shock to the government.
It is arguable that the assassination of Park Chung-hee (the 26th October Incident) partially resulted from the ’78 election results.

This empowered opposition leader Kim Young-sam. In May 1979, he ran up a clear-cut opposition party, and was selected as its head.
From then on, he took the lead in the anti-Yushin movement.

In August of the same year, while the police were forcibly breaking up a sit-in of female workers from the wigmakers YH at the opposition party headquarters, one of the workers was killed.

In September, Kim Young-sam said in an interview with the New York Times that the US government should openly and directly exert pressure on the Park government in order to effect democratization in Korea.

Park did not take kindly to these remarks, and had Kim’s seat in the National Assembly taken away. This tough response revoked massive protests in Busan and Masan, the base of Kim Young-sam’s political support.

While trying to suppress the protests, divisions at the apex of power emerged, Park Chung-hee was assassinated by the head of the KCIA, and with that, the Yushin system collapsed.


4. A new military group, the extension of authoritarianism

With Yushin’s collapse, there was much hope and desire for democratization.

Hardliners, including security commander Chun Doo-hwan who was heading the investigation into Park Chung-hee’s death, arrested the chief administrator of martial law, on 12th December: thus beginning a military coup from which they seized control of the army and government.

Spring 1980, though mindful of potential threats, the new military government decided to pardon those imprisoned under Yushin-era emergency measures and send expelled students back to school.

University students began to protest, demanding immediate democratization, such as ending martial law and setting out a political schedule of events to come.

In reaction to this, on the pretext of the need to prevent social chaos, the new military government enlarged martial law, arrested opposition figures including Kim Dae-jung, dissolved the National Assembly, closed all universities nationwide and banned all protests.

The following day, on 18th May, university students and others clashed with the military outside the front gate of Jeonnam University in Kwangju city.

Students and people in the area demanded the release of Kim Dae-jung and democratization, but paratroopers attacked the crowd indiscriminately with clubs, killing protestors.
The citizens of the city were engaged, and a massive protest ensued. Some protestors seized arms from the army reserve stores, and armed themselves.

Facing a massive protest, the army withdrew to outside the city.

Facing a massive protest, the army withdrew to outside the city.
In the early hours of 27th May, the military re-entered the city and massacred civilians while suppressing protests. As a result of these actions, a combined total of close to 200 civilians, military personnel and police were killed.

Following this, Chun Doo-hwan’s military government moved to deepen its grip on power. They too, like Park Chung-hee before them, sought to de-militarize the government and don suits.
The Yushin constitution was amended, but indirect presidential elections remained, thus depriving voters of the chance to choose their government. Chun Doo-hwan was elected president in another ‘gym election’.
The freedom of the press, protest, association and the three rights of workers were all heavily restricted.
That said, Chun Doo-hwan, president under the 5th Republic, promised to only serve one term as president, thus signally a change from the one-man dictatorships of the past.

Yun Seong-I / Political Science Professor, Kyunghee University
Q. What was different about Chun Doo-hwan’s 5th Republic compared to Rhee’s and Park’s one-man rule?
Even though he chose the path of authoritarian governance, he promised to only serve one seven-year term. Thus, future democratization remained a possibility.


5. Desire for democracy, the spread of the democratization movement

The social base for democracy got increasingly strong.

Rapid economic growth, led to a large increase in the average income.
More not only went to high school but also university. Thus there was a large rise in the highly educated, highly skilled and highly paid workers – the bedrock of the middle class.

Such people understood the rights and obligations of the citizen, and were a group that hoped for the realization of democratization.

The ‘president selected in the gymnasium’ and the night 9 o’clock ‘ding-ding Chun news’ was unbearable for such people.

The student protest movement, expanded as the Chun Doo-hwan government took power.

The movement argued that the United States had helped Chun into power, and became increasingly anti-American.

There also emerged a group within the movement that sought socialist revolution as their ultimate goal.

In 1983, Kim Young-sam went on hunger strike for 23 days, demanding five clause of democratizations, including an end to media censorship.
This again inflamed demands for democratization in broader society.

With the Chun government’s aggressive economic stabilization measures and the global economy reviving, economic growth returned.

The elite, gaining in confidence, began to an appeasement policy with their opponents.

Professors who had lost their jobs were reemployed, while expelled students were allowed to return to school.
Former opposition politicians were permitted to engage in political activities once again.

Thus the regime sought to cohabit with its critics.

It was at this time that the movement for democratization amongst former opposition politicians, students and intellectuals became more active.

Kim Young-sam, released from house arrest and, along Kim Dae-jung, who had sentenced to death but exiled to the United States, formed the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, from which they made written declarations and organized protests demanding democratization.

Their newly organized opposition party became the leading opposition in the February 1985 General Elections.

This new opposition party began a movement for the restoration of direct government election, for the restoration of the right of the people to choose their government.
The core of the student power were National Liberation and People’s Democracy revolution elements,
but they too actively participated in the movement of the institutionalized opposition party to amend the constitution.
The student movement also focused much energy on educating workers.

In the midst of these developments,
the police while attempting to hunt down and arrest key members of students power and the labour movement, used sexual torture against female students and even tortured students to death.

In July 1986, it emerged that one Bucheon police officer had tortured sexually a female student who had been disguised as a worker.

In January 1987, personnels at branch office of National Police Headquarters, in Namyeong-dong tortured students they had brought in, before killing them.

The people were enraged by the barbarity that occupied Chun Doo-hwan’s rule,
and because united in their support of the movement to change the constitution.

here was no way to switch to a parliamentary system, so on 13th April 1987, Chun revealed his intention to maintain the constitution as it was, with indirectly elected president. This amounted to Chun riding roughshod over popular opinion.

Soon after, it was revealed that the police had tried to cut the incident of torture resulting in death and to conceal the truth. Understandably the people responded with anger. In June, beginning with religious groups including the Catholics, people for all walks of life became engaged in the constitutional amendment movement.

Hitherto a movement limited to students and opposition party activists, it became a generalized movement even including ordinary white-colars, the so-called ‘necktie brigade’.
It was not possible to suppress such a large movement through police power alone,
it was feared that if the army got involved, another Gwangju like event could occur.
Thus, it was decided that a compromise should be made, accepting the demand for direct presidential elections, the 29th June Declaration.

Kim Yong-ho / Political Science Professor Inha University
Q. Why did those in power accept the demand for a constitutional amendment mandating direct presidential elections?
Because the people were so strong in their demand for change, if the movement had been suppressed it would have resulted in much bloodshed, and the ruling group thought that it would then be difficult to deal with resulting issues. The fear was that the Olympics could be cancelled. So the elite decided to compromise.

With agreement of ruling and opposition parties, a democratic constitution including provisions for a directly elected president agreed and won in a referendum. Thus, the Republic of Korea became a democratic republic through peaceful compromise.


6. Establishing a procedural democracy, the opposition takes power

In the election that followed, the opposition vote was split between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, resulting in the election of Roh Tae-woo.
Roh was selected from within the ruling group, but he was elected by the people, and thus his election represented a democratic choice made by the people.

Following the election, democracy continued to develop.

Five years later, in 1992, Kim Young-sam, former democracy activist and opposition party leader, having joined the ruling party, was elected president. As a result, almost 30 years of rule by Generals came to end.
Kim acquired the ruling party’s presidential candidate after merging of three parties in 1990.

Halfway toward an opposition party taking power, Kim Young-sam had been an opposition party politician for almost 40 years.
In office, he rid the military of secret organizations, made it impossible for the military to intervene in politics, and punished those in charge of the last military government.

In the 1997 Presidential Election, Kim Dae-jung became the first opposition party candidate to be elected president.

This was also the first time that a candidate from the Jeolla region of the country had been elected.

In 2002, Roh Moo-hyun was elected president, another democracy activist becoming president.
Five years after that, the opposition took power again, with the victory of Lee Myung-bak.
In 2012 election, as ruling party’s candidate Park Geun-hye was elected president also.

After the amendment to the constitution in 1987, a presidential election has been help peacefully every five years, and there has been a change in the party holding the presidency twice in that time. This implies the consolidation of democracy.
The legacy of authoritarian politics left from the era of military rule has all but gone.
Now the threat from the military or ultra-right forces has all but disappeared.


7. Epilogue: Conclusions and prospects

The form emerged before the content.
Representatives of the people selected by election, division of powers and political freedoms were introduced first. But it took much time before the principles became realities.
Initially, Koreans did not pay for democracy, it was handed to them on a platter. Only later, by paying the price, did they actually get real democracy.
Thanks to the form they were given, could they create a democratic reality.
Liberal democracy and democratic institutions were partially damaged, but the framework remained.
Even under dictatorship, elections, the bedrock of representative democracy, remained. Citizens expressed their opinion through the ballot box.

Kim Yong-ho / Political Science Professor, Inha University
Q. What are the characteristics of Korean democracy?
Korean party politics and elections went on since they were established in 1948. Under dictatorships in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, after the army seized power, there were many instances of all parties being dissolved.
But in Korea, Generals had to don suits in order to rule, while continuing to let elections happen. They also formed political parties.

Election results reflected the popular will, and heavily influenced the political system.
The democratization movement, that included opposition parties, students, intellectuals and religious groups, was able to gain momentum from electoral results.
Economic and social development became the basis for democratization,
while industrialization and the emergence of the middle class created a core constituency for democracy.

The middle class could not abide dictatorship, an anachronism given the fruits of economic development. They threw their support behind the democratization movement, and thus the military dictatorship exited the political stage.

Circumstantial factors like the scandal created by the torture of students in the movement and the impending Seoul Olympics were also important.

The scandal created by torture inflamed public opinion in 1987,
as the Olympics neared, the ruling group were not in a position to suppress the movement any longer.

because democratization has been a gradual, brokered process, it wasn’t clear how it was all going to turn out,
but social chaos was averted and progress made.

Thus it was, in 1948, constitutional democracy was introduced,
after 1987, procedurally it became consolidated.
Now all that is left is to add substance and depth to Korean democracy.

Kang Won-taek / Political Science Professor, Seoul National University
Q. What is left to resolve to make Korea a more mature democracy?
Democracy is not something that just ends at a particular point, it’s something that keeps going.
We have succeeded in creating a democracy, it’s been consolidated, now it must progress a further step, so that we can live together in one community in which the lives of all are considered.
In a community, one does not merely assert one’s own rights, one also considers what one must do for the community, and what one’s community needs.
In that respect, we must seriously consider the problem of political education of citizens.

Yun Seong-I / Political Science Professor, Kyunghee University
Q. What is left to resolve to make Korea a more mature democracy?
As yet, the average citizen’s engagement is lacking, and grassroots democracy remains weak.
We must consider how get citizens involved in the politics of their lives and active within grassroots democracy. When this happens, it can be said that our democracy has progressed a step future.

Now Korean society needs to
improve the functionality of politics as a resolver of social conflict
create reliable political leadership
and improve political accountability.
Moreover, we must raise the people’s interest and sense of responsibility,
while getting citizens more involved in the political process.