Korea - Politics
|Syngman Rhee||15 Aug 1948||03 May 1960||LP|
|Ho Chong||03 May 1960||15 Jun 1960||LP|
|Kwak Sang Hoon||15 Jun 1960||26 Jun 1960||DP|
|Ho Chong||26 Jun 1960||13 Aug 1960||LP|
|Yun Po Sun||13 Aug 1960||24 Mar 1962||DP|
|Park Chung Hee||24 Mar 1962||26 Oct 1979||DRP|
|Choi Kyu Hah||26 Oct 1979||16 Aug 1980||DRP|
|Park Choong Hoon||16 Aug 1980||01 Sep 1980||Military|
|Chun Doo Hwan||01 Sep 1980||25 Feb 1988||DJP|
|Roh Tae Woo||25 Feb 1988||25 Feb 1993||MDD|
|Kim Young Sam||25 Feb 1993||25 Feb 1998||MDD; SHD|
|Kim Dae Jung||25 Feb 1998||25 Feb 2003||SJKH; MD|
|Roh Moo Hyun||25 Feb 2003||25 Feb 2008||Uri|
|Goh Kun||12 Mar 2004||14 May 2004||Non-party|
|Lee Myung Bak||25 Feb 2008||25 Feb 2013||GNP / HD / Saenuri|
|Park Geun-hye||25 Feb 2013||25 Feb 2018||GNP / HD / Saenuri|
The ROK has evolved from a military autocracy to a civilian-led democracy within several decades. Political freedom is now complete, and the expression of political views is virtually uninhibited. At the same time, however, regionalism and extensive corruption loom as challenges.
In 1987, Roh Tae-woo, a former general, was elected president, but additional democratic advances during his tenure resulted in the 1992 election of a long-time pro-democracy activist, Kim Young-sam. Kim became Korea's first civilian elected president in 32 years. Until 1993 and the advent of the Kim Young Sam administration (1993-1998), military governments had dominated South Korean politics. The move towards democratic civilian rule coupled with the gradual rise of a "post-military society" had a marked influence on South Korean attitudes to military and security issues.
For almost 20 years after the 1950-53 Korean War, relations between North and South Korea were minimal and very strained. Official contact did not occur until 1971, beginning with Red Cross contacts and family reunification projects in 1985. In the early 1990s, relations between the two countries improved with the 1991 South-North Basic Agreement, which acknowledged that reunification was the goal of both governments, and the 1992 Joint Declaration of Denuclearization. However, divergent positions on the process of reunification and North Korean weapons programs, compounded by South Korea's tumultuous domestic politics and the 1994 death of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, contributed to a cycle of warming and cooling of relations.
The 1997 presidential election and peaceful transition of power marked another step forward in Korea's democratization when Kim Dae-jung, a life-long democracy and human rights activist, was elected from a major opposition party. In 1998 Korea experienced its worst economic crisis since the Korean War. A wildly fluctuating exchange rate, plummeting property values, and a temporaryparalysis of the financial system are among the key features of this period. The financial crisis made importing extremely risky for everyone, and credit impossible for many.
Relations between North and South improved following the 1997 election of Kim Dae-jung. His "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the DPRK set the stage for the historic June 2000 inter-Korean summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for the policy, but the prize was somewhat tarnished by revelations of a $500 million dollar "payoff" to North Korea that immediately preceded the summit. The sunshine policy was created to thaw the relations between the ROK and DPRK by supplying aid and maintaining a spirit of open cooperation.
The transition to an open, democratic system was further consolidated in 2002, when human rights lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun, won the presidential election on a "participatory government" platform. Hailing from a very poor family, Roh was a self-made man without a college degree in an elitist society that values formal education. His home town in Gyeongsang Province near Busan was a conservative stronghold but Roh was a progressive politician who made his name as a champion of labor rights.
President Roh was impeached by the opposition-dominated National Assembly on 12 March 2004 for illegal electioneering, failing to stop corruption and mismanagement of the world's 12th largest economy. The court ruled that election laws had been violated but the infraction was too minor to warrant impeachment.
The pro-government Uri Party recorded a resounding victory in general elections April 2004 while the two main parties that had backed impeachment were soundly defeated. The main opposition Grand National Party lost its majority in the legislature to the Uri Party, putting power into the hands of liberal elements for the first time in the history of the country's parliament.
South Korea's Constitutional Court has overturned the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and restored his executive powers, effective immediately. The decision on 14 May 2004 by the nine judges brings to an end 63 days of leadership crisis in South Korea. The president of the Constitutional Court, Yun Young-chul, announced the reinstatement of President Roh Moo-hyun in a national broadcast.
The Roh administration espoused three key values: 'equality' in domestic affairs 'Korean solidarity' in policies toward North Korea and 'autonomy' in foreign policy. Under 'equality' it placed equal distribution above economic growth. In North Korea policies, 'Korean reconciliation' dominated all other policies. In foreign policy, 'autonomy' fueled xenophobic sentiments and anti-Americanism among the younger generation. Above all, Roh stood for cleaning up politics, doing away with regionalism, and reconciling with the North. This vision captured the imagination of the Korean public and catapulted him to the presidency. That by his own admission he failed to fulfill his vision does not diminish the public's support for the kind of politics he promised.
The Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, which advocated a "sunshine" policy of engaging the North, often downplayed threats posed by the North Korean military. South Korea maintained its sunshine policy toward North Korea up until the Lee Myung-bak administration of Korea's conservative Grand National Party.
South Koreans voted for a new president in December 2007. Former business executive and Mayor of Seoul Lee Myung-bak's 5-year term began with his inauguration on February 25, 2008. President Lee Myung-bak articulated a policy of continued engagement and cooperation with North Korea, but has noted that any such engagement should occur in parallel with further progress toward complete denuclearization. The new, conservative South Korean government warned that it would speak out against human rights abuses in the Communist North and that it would not expand economic ties unless the North abandoned its nuclear weapons programs. Lee Myung-bak pledged to better ties with major trading partner Japan after his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun tried to score points at home by fanning the flames of lingering anti-Japan sentiment. Infighting in the National Assembly and concern that the conservative Lee Myung-bak government is trying to consolidate power in the executive has resulted in deepening public distrust of the political process.
In April 2008 Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party (GNP) won 151 of 299 seats, giving them a much slimmer majority than expected. The opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) did better than anticipated, winning 82 seats. Lee Hoi-chang's Liberal Forward Party (LFP) with 19 seats and the Pro-Park Alliance with 14 were the real surprises, confirming Lee Hoi-chang's regional base in Choongcheong Provinces and Park's appeal in the Yeongnam region. A record 25 independents won; 15 of these are former GNP lawmakers. The elections were marked by record-low turnout (46 percent) as party infighting and a short campaign season left most voters apathetic and unmotivated to vote.
News of former President Roh Moo-hun's suicide on 23 May 2009 sparked intense feelings of anger directed at President Lee Myung-bak. Roh's sympathizers accused Lee of conducting a politically motivated investigation into allegations that Roh had received more than US$6 million in bribes either while in office or immediately after leaving the Blue House, and that the prosecutors had literally hounded Roh to death. On 30 April 2009 Roh underwent the humiliation of being summoned to the prosecutor's office for questioning about his knowledge of money received by his wife and children.
South Korea's ruling conservatives scored an upset victory in a nationwide legislative election. Voters were able to make separate selections for individual candidates and parties for proportional representation seats. The Saenuri Party won 153 seats in the 300 seat National Assembly while the opposition Democratic United Party and its coalition partner, the United Progressive Party, won 140 seats combined, with the Democratic United Party taking 127. The minor opposition Unified Progressive Party was projected to win as few as 10 and as many as 21 seats, in fact taking 13.
The New Frontier (Saenuri) Party, along with minor parties on the right, retained control of the National Assembly for the next four years. Economic issues, a spying scandal, and personalities outweighed national security concerns in South Korea's fiercely fought parliamentary election. An alliance of liberal parties failed to wrest control of the 300-seat National Assembly from the conservatives.
The opposition attacked President Lee Myung-bak, who cannot run for re-election in December 2012, for widening the gap between the wealthy and the underprivileged since taking office in 2008. It also criticized his administration's support for the recently ratified trade agreement with the United States. Another election issue: a still-unfolding political scandal implicating the presidential Blue House in spying on political opponents, civic groups, labor activists and journalists. The administration responded that 80 percent of the cases dated to the previous presidency of Roo Moo-hyun, whose supporters were in the opposition.
The main opposition Democratic United Party found its image damaged after nominating a candidate with a track record of highly offensive satirical comments. On a popular Internet radio show, the candidate, Kim Yong-min, had called for top U.S. officials to be raped or murdered and suggested kidnapping and executing American troops in South Korea. He has called for the eradication of the country's powerful Protestant church and offended other constituencies, including the elderly. Kim lost his bid to gain a seat in the National Assembly.
The New Frontier Party, hoping to retain the presidency, changed its name from the Grand National Party in February 2012 in a bid to revitalize its image.
The year 2012 was the first time in two decades the legislative and presidential elections were held in the same year in a country known for its volatile political environment. South Korea's ruling conservatives scored an upset victory in a nationwide legislative election 10 April 2012. The New Frontier (Saenuri) Party, along with minor parties on the right, retained control of the National Assembly for the next four years. Economic issues, a spying scandal, and personalities outweighed national security concerns in South Korea's fiercely fought parliamentary election. An alliance of liberal parties failed to wrest control of the 300-seat National Assembly from the conservatives. The opposition attacked President Lee Myung-bak, who cannot run for re-election in December, for widening the gap between the wealthy and the underprivileged since taking office in 2008. It also criticized his administration's support for the recently ratified trade agreement with the United States. Another election issue: a still-unfolding political scandal implicating the presidential Blue House in spying on political opponents, civic groups, labor activists and journalists.
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