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Korea - Political Parties

Party20042008 2010 20122016 #20182020
Democratic Party (DP)
Minjoo Party of Korea /
Deobureo Minjudang
UDP / DP
982 88127121121
Liberty Korea Party
New Frontier Party / Saenuridang
GNP / Saenuri
121 151 169 15299 *117
Bareun Mirae Party
Mirae Party
Bareun / Righteous Party
New Conservative Party for Reform
-- --3030
Democratic Peace Party
People's Party /
Gukmin-eui dang
3814
Justice Party /
Jeonguidang
66
Independents3257365
Uri152- --
Unified Progressive 13
Liberty Forward19175
Pro-Park Alliance148
Democratic Labor10 5
Renewal of Korea 2
New Progressive 1
Christian Liberal Party
# as of end of 2016
* 122 were elected, prior to party split

Party realignment is a regular fixture on the Korean political landscape. In the US the major political parties have had the same names since the mid-1800s. In South Korea, barely a year goes by without one rechristening itself. The main conservative party has had around 10 name changes. The biggest left-of-center group, formed in 1955 as the Democratic Party, has changed its identity 20 times. That includes a dozen times just since 2000. The name in 2016 translates as Together Democratic Party. In December 2015 that replaced the widely disliked New Politics Alliance for Democracy which had been adopted only about a year earlier.

Each political party or candidate chose a certain color to appeal to the voters. With the new Together Democratic Party name came a new color scheme. The partys logo is mainly blue instead of green, and candidates wear jackets and baseball caps in the new color scheme. The countrys ruling conservative party Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party) dropped the color in 2012 and uses red as its color, even though red is considered a leftist color. Plagued by corruption scandals ahead of the 2012, the Grand National Party switched colors and renamed itself the New Frontier Party. In voting, it managed to hang on to its National Assembly majority.

One of the minor left-of-center parties the New Progressive Party criticized the NFP move as very inconsiderate. The NPP had been using red for several years and stuck with it despite the clash. The United Progressive Party was decked out in purple. When it unveiled its color in November 2011, it explained that purple represents balance and ubiquity.

The Democratic United Party (DUP), formerly led by Han Myeong-sook, dyed their jackets pure yellow, a color inherited from the two late Presidents. The Unified Progressive Party (UPP) stuck with a dull purplish-red probably because the pure red was already taken by the Saenuri Party. The Liberty Forward Partys (LFP) Lee Hoi-chang chose a purplish-blue. The Creative Korea Party (CKP) selected pink. And the K-Party (People Thinking Party in Korean) opted for light-blue.

Increasing ideological polarization is a relatively new feature, clearly emerging with the formation of the rightist Grand National Party in 1995. In 1995 Kim Dae-jung (DJ) split the opposition Democratic Party by forming the National Congress for New Politics, which changed to the Millenium Democratic Party in 2000. The Uri Party split away from the Millenium Democratic Party in late 2003 spurred by a left-leaning faction led by such leaders as Chong Dong-yong. Subsequently, MDP dropped "M" and became the Democratic Party. On the GNP side, the party originated from the Democratic Liberal Party formed in 1990, a merger of the Democratic Justice Party (then President Roh Tae-woo's party), Reunification Democratic Party (Chaired at the time by former President Kim Young-sam), and the New Democratic Party (Chaired at the time by Kim Jong-pil (JP)). After JP left the party and Roh was imprisoned, the party was renamed the New Korea Party, and subsequently changed its name to GNP. By 2006 neither the ruling Uri Party nor the main leading opposition Grand National Party (GNP) had a long history.

Typically, one of the strengths of majoritarian systems is that a relatively small swing in the electorate can bring the other party into power. In Korea the President is elected to a five-year term and the unicameral National Assembly is elected to a four-year term. In 2008 these terms aligned so that, for the first time in Korea's short democratic history, a mere four months after electing a new president, the country also elected an entirely new National Assembly. Consequently, the current power alignment favoring the GNP will be in place for at least four years, without the public having an opportunity to pass any kind of meaningful judgment on the party's performance.

In most majoritarian systems there is a particularly close relationship between representatives and constituents, because there is a significant incentive for constituency service in single-member districts. This close relationship provides citizens with a voice in the nation's affairs and holds elected officials accountable to constituency concerns. In Korea's case, political parties are still highly personality driven and demand almost complete factional loyalty. Consequently, a politician's success is more dependent on personal connections within the party than on constituent service. Additionally, the party decides which candidates will run for election in which district, often moving candidates into districts where they have no personal connection. This fluidity results in representatives with weak or no ties to the community they represent.

One strength of majoritarian governments is that they tend to be more efficient -- the winner-takes-all system creates clear winners and losers. In Korea there is no doubt that the GNP holds the reigns of power in both the National Assembly and in the executive office, however the public has very little trust in the system's ability to check that power. Korea's long (and recent) experience with authoritarian governments and short history with democracy have resulted in a fundamental mistrust among the populace and a constant fear of a return to an authoritarian regime. This fear is particularly pervasive now because, after 10 years of liberal rule, the conservatives -- and heirs to the authoritarian governments' legacy -- are back in power. Not surprising, liberals and progressives see every move of President Lee Myung-bak as an attempt to turn the clock back to what they view as the bad old days.




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