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Korea - Politics

1-3Syngman Rhee15 Aug 194803 May 1960 LP
Ho Chong03 May 196015 Jun 1960 LP
Kwak Sang Hoon15 Jun 196026 Jun 1960 DP
Ho Chong26 Jun 196013 Aug 1960 LP
4Yun Po Sun13 Aug 196024 Mar 1962 DP
5-9Park Chung Hee24 Mar 196226 Oct 1979DRP
10Choi Kyu Hah26 Oct 197916 Aug 1980 DRP
Park Choong Hoon16 Aug 198001 Sep 1980 Military
11-12Chun Doo Hwan01 Sep 198025 Feb 1988 DJP
13Roh Tae Woo25 Feb 198825 Feb 1993 MDD
14Kim Young Sam25 Feb 199325 Feb 1998 MDD; SHD
15Kim Dae Jung25 Feb 199825 Feb 2003SJKH; MD
16Roh Moo Hyun25 Feb 200325 Feb 2008 Uri
Goh Kun12 Mar 200414 May 2004 Non-party
17Lee Myung Bak25 Feb 200825 Feb 2013 GNP / HD / Saenuri
18Park Geun-hye25 Feb 2013?? ??? 2017 GNP / HD / Saenuri
19Moon Jae-in10 May 201725 Feb 2022 DP / Minjoo Party
20Yoon Suk-yeol10 May 2022 2027
# presidency order relies on election terms

With the inauguration of the first civilian government in 1993, Korea started a very fast process of democratization. Citizen’s awareness of their rights have gone up, while the national government has devised various systemic mechanisms to ensure their protection. As a result of such democratic development, democratic citizenship has also risen, and Korean citizens increasingly participate in the decision making process forming various organizations.

The ROK operates under a presidential system. Several of its early Presidents managed to establish dictatorships, some military but waves of civil unrest eventually led to the first real democratic elections in 1987. With several constitutional amendments, there has been a gradual shift of power away from the President to the National Assembly. The President, and Head of State, is elected by popular vote for a single non-renewable five-year term.

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.

The Gregory Henderson, an FSO who served several tours in Korea in the 1940s and 1960s, is well remembered as the author of "Korea: The Politics of the Vortex." The title remains an accurate description of Korean politics today: a spiraling whirlpool that sucks everything toward its center. Everything that gets caught in its wake is destroyed or damaged. As in Henderson's days, the Korean political whirlpool is less about policies than personalities. Candidates are pay little or no attention to issues such as the economy, education reform, or what to do about North Korea. Above all, it's about finding dirt by any means to bring down the nearest opponent.

Democratic politics in South Korea have been accompanied by two salient political issues: the continuous fission and fusion of political parties, and regionalism.

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.

A pronounced and deepening regionalism emerged in South Korean politics since 1988 when democratic reforms of the electoral system were fully implemented. Regionalism engendered the expectation that voters will be receptive to appeals for support composed by political elites who share with them a common identification with a geographical region. For example, in his fourth bid for the presidency (1971, 1987, 1992, 1997), Kim Dae Joong captured 95 percent of the vote in Honam, having increased his share of the popular vote in his region at each succeeding election (from 62% to 88%, to 91%, to 95%). In the April 2000 election of the National Assembly, the ruling New Millennium Party, led by Kim Dae Joong, won 25 of 29 seats in his home region of Honam, while at the same time his party won none of the 65 seats contested in the rival provinces of Youngnam.

Voters in Honam rallied behind Kim Dae Joong and his party in order to redress several decades of mistreatment under previous administrations. Honam (literally "south of the lake") is a region coinciding with the former Jeolla Province in what is now South Korea. Today, the term refers to Gwangju, South Jeolla and North Jeolla Provinces.

It was doubtful that this pattern could be sustained indefinitely, or even over the long haul. To take the Grand National Party as an example, it was more or less a lineal descendent of the Democratic Justice Party begun by Chun Doo Hwan and inherited by Roh Tae Woo, both of whom were from Kyeongbook / Gyeongbok. Roh’s successor in the presidency was Kim Young Sam, who had been supported by both Roh and Kim Jong Pil. His party had incorporated, by merger, Roh’s party. While Kim Young Sam can be considered a regional compatriot of Roh (and Chun), his province or origin was Kyeongnam, not Kyeongbook.

2012 Presidential Election The Saenuri Party was deeply rooted in Gyeongsang / Gyeongbuk Province. The nation's main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea elected lawmaker Choo Mi-ae as their new chief on 27 August 2016. It marked the first time the party had selected a leader from the Daegu-and-North Gyeongsangdo Province region, the traditional stronghold of the ruling Saenuri Party.

The final results of the April 2016 election gave President Park's New Frontier Party only 122 seats out of 300 total, while the Minjoo Party of Korea had 123 seats, and was thus the majority party in Parliment. This created the anomalous situatioan [for South Korea] that the legislative and executive branches were under the control of different parties. Defeat in the election earlier this year effectively left Park unable to force through the structural reforms that the economy undoubtedly needed, while there was also factional in-fighting between groups within the ruling Saenuri Party.

President Moon Jae-in was voted in as the 19th president of the Republic of Korea in the election held on May 9, 2017. The two biggest parties have a difference of only four seats in the National Assembly. In the opposition-led parliament, it remained to be seen how the ruling bloc will get along with the new young parties. Depending on how the minor opposition parties position themselves -- it could empower either the ruling bloc or the main opposition.

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Page last modified: 09-03-2022 19:42:24 ZULU