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Chun Doo Hwan

Chun Doo Hwan, as head of the Defense Security Command, replaced the army chief of staff in December 1979 and had taken the command of the KCIA in April 1980. Chun's methodical and speedy actions after 17 May 1980 clearly revealed that he had a well-laid plan. He issued a decree closing down the colleges and universities and prohibiting all political gatherings. All publications and broadcasts were to receive prior censorship, criticism of the incumbent and past presidents was outlawed, and the manufacture and spreading of rumors were forbidden. Chun's plan aimed not only at quelling demonstrations but also at destroying the power base of all existing political figures and groups. The arrest of Kim Dae Jung and other arch enemies of Park was to be expected as soon as the military stepped in on May 17. But the arrest of Kim Chong-p'il and other people who had been influential under Park came as a total surprise.

Chun's hard-line policy led to a confrontation in Kwangju, a city of 600,000 people located 170 miles south of Seoul, in South Cholla Province, the scene of an uprising and bloodbath between May 18 and 27. As noted in a report issued by the Martial Law Command, the students and ''hot-blooded young soldiers" confronted each other; angry citizens joined in, driven by alleged rumors that the 1 soldiers of Kyongsang Province origin came to exterminate the seeds of the Cholla people." The Kwangju massacre was to became an important landmark in the struggle for South Korean democracy. It heightened provincial hostility and marked the beginning of the rise of anti-American sentiment in South Korea.

Having suppressed the Kwangju uprising with brute force, General Chun Doo Hwan further tightened his grip on the government. He and three of his close associates served as the core of the junta committee, known as the Special Committee for National Security Measures. The three were Lieutenant General Ch'a Kyuhon (deputy chief of staff of the army), Major General Roh Tae Woo (commander of the Capital Garrison Command), and Major General Chong Ho-yong (commander of the Special Forces). The junta vested in itself the authority to pass laws and to make all decisions affecting the state until a new National Assembly came into being.

On August 5, 1980, Chun promoted himself from lieutenant general to full general in preparation for retiring from the army on August 22. On August 27 he was elected president by the National Conference for Unification, receiving 2,524 of the 2,525 votes cast. The single dissenting vote was invalidated for an unknown reason.

Chun presented his objective at his September 1 , 1980, inauguration: to create a new society where all past corrupt practices would be replaced by mutual trust and justice. In order to accomplish this goal, he planned to remove the old politicians from the scene; only those certified as "clean" would be permitted to participate in building the new order.

In the economic field, Chun intended to do away with excessive protection of industries and to encourage creativity. An increase in employment opportunities would be facilitated, and cooperation and coprosperity between labor and management would be brought about. Farmers' income would be increased by continuing the Saemaul Movement.

One of Chun's inaugural promises was the promulgation of a new constitution and the holding of a national referendum to approve it. On September 29, 1980, the government announced the draft of a constitution that in many ways was the most democratic South Korea had ever had—except for the supplementary provisions and the procedure for presidential election. The guarantee of peoples' democratic rights was absolute, including the right to privacy in communications, the prohibition of torture, and the inadmissability in court trials of confessions obtained by force. The president, who was to be elected by an electoral college and to serve a single seven-year term, was given strong powers, including the right to dissolve the National Assembly, which in turn could bring down cabinets but not the president. In the event that the constitution was amended to extend the president's term of office, such changes were not to be applied to the incumbent. The document received the overwhelming approval of the voters — 91.6 percent — at the national referendum held on October 22, 1980.

The constitution, however, was a "promissory note." Until the new National Assembly was elected and inaugurated, the Legislative Council for National Security, to be appointed by Chun, would enact all laws. A supplementary provision in the constitution also called for the dissolution of all existing political parties. In effect, by offering to bring in a democratic government by June 1981, Chun had obtained a mandate to change the political landscape in whatever form he chose. The new constitution placed South Korea under a constitutional dictatorship from October 1980 to June 1981.

Chun zealously pushed his campaign to weed out corruption The clean-up campaign began in May 1980 when Kim Chongp'il and others were forced to give up their wealth and retire from politics. In June some 300 senior KCIA agents were dismissed. In July 1980, more than 230 senior officials, including former cabinet officers, were dismissed on corruption charges. The ax also fell on 4,760 low-level officials in the government, state-owned firms, and banks, with the proviso that the former officials not be rehired by such firms within two years.

The Martial Law Command arrested 17 prominent politicians of both the government and opposition parties for investigation and removed some 400 bank officials, including 4 bank presidents and 21 vice presidents. The government also announced the dismissal of 1 ,819 officials of public enterprises and affiliated agencies, including 39 (some 25 percent) of the presidents and vice presidents of such enterprises and banks and 128 board directors (more than 22 percent).

The "clean-up campaign" also extended to the mass media. On 31 July 1980, the 172 periodicals that allegedly caused "social decay and juvenile delinquency" were summarily abolished, among them some of the finest intellectual magazines of liberal inclination and prestigious journals for general audiences. This action resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of journalists and staff. The daily newspapers not affected by the purge also were directed to weed out "corrupting," that is, liberal writers. In the wake of Chun's purge, the government also launched a massive reeducation program for the nation's elites. High government officials, judges, prosecutors, business executives, college professors, and their spouses—32,000 persons in all—were brought together for an intensive three-day training program at Saemaul's New Community Training Centers in Suwon and elsewhere. The training regimen included morning exercises, environmental cleanup, lectures on the New Community Movement, and discussion sessions on "the proper way of life." This training program, initiated under Park's regime, eventually was to be extended to the general public. In August 1980, the government launched another massive propaganda campaign, organizing "Bright Society Rallies" in major cities where tens of thousands of citizens were mobilized to hear speeches. In addition, "Cleansing Committees" were established at all levels of government down to the local ward (ri and dong) levels.

Even though Chun Doo Hwan's government had attained considerable results in economy and diplomacy, his government failed to win public trust or support. In spite of Chun's lofty pronouncements, the public basically regarded Chun as a usurper of power who had deprived South Korea of its opportunity to restore democracy. Chun lacked political credentials; his access to power derived from his position as the head of the Defense Security Command—the army's nerve center of political intelligence—and his ability to bring together his generals in the front lines.

Chun and his military followers failed to overcome the stigma of the Kwangju incident, and the new "just society" that he promised did not materialize. In fact, between 1982 and 1983, at least two of the major financial scandals in South Korea involved Chun's in-laws. The Chun government's slogans became hollow. While Park had gained respect and popularity through the recordbreaking pace of economic development, Chun could not repeat such a feat.

In the 1985 National Assembly elections, opposition parties together won more votes than the government party, clearly indicating that the public wanted a change. Moreover, increasing numbers of people had become more sympathetic to the students, who presented increasingly radical demands.

One of the most serious problems the government faced was that the argument for restricting democracy became less and less credible. The people had long been tolerant of various restrictions imposed by succeeding governments because of the perceived threat from the north, but the consensus eroded as the international environment moderated. More and more people became cynical about repeated government pronouncements, viewing them as self-serving propaganda by those in power. This tendency was particularly pronounced among the post-Korean War generation that constituted a majority of the South Korean population.

The unpopular Chun regime and its constitutional framework was brought down in 1987 largely by the student agitation that beset the regime. Student activists set the tone and agenda of the society as a whole because the government and the governmentcontrolled press had lost their credibility. The opposition parties worked with the students, although they disagreed on the ultimate aim—the politicians wanted reform, while the students demanded revolution. The opposition politicians wanted constitutional reform to replace the existing system of electing the president through the handpicked electoral college with direct popular election. The students attacked not only the military leaders in power but also the entire socio-political and economic establishment.

President Chun attempted to squash the opposition by issuing a declaration on April 13, 1987, to suspend the "wasteful debate" about constitutional reform until a new government was installed at the end of his seven-year term. The declaration was, instead, his regime's swan song. Chun wanted to have his successor "elected" by his handpicked supporters; the public greeted the declaration with universal outrage. Even the Reagan administration, which had been taciturn about South Korea's internal politics, urged the Chun government not to ignore the outrage. Finally, on 29 June 1987, Roh Tae Woo, the government party's choice as Chun's successor, made a dramatic announcement in favor of a new democratic constitution that embodied all the opposition's demands.

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Page last modified: 14-01-2018 18:38:22 ZULU