Duke University Republic of Korea

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Duke University

Republic of Korea

and democracy


Calvin Won Park

22 September 2014

Game Theory and Democracy

Calvin Won Park

Game Theory and Democracy

Professor Bray

22 September 2014

Republic of Korea and democracy

South Korea has relatively short history is democracy than western democratic countries. Current concept of Republic of Korean, South Korean, republic that is contrast to the concept of monarchy was established after liberation from 38 years of Japanese colony. Practically, the republic system was established with the election of the first South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, in 1948. Following from the break away of Lee Dynasty’s absolute monarchy, it took relatively short time, 60 years, for South Korea to establish the form of democracy. Within the 60 years, Republic of Korea has introduced democracy system and current 2014 South Korea has reached significant level of democracy.

For this paper, in order for me to discuss the Korean democracy, I researched few significant and symbolic civil revolutions that occurred within the 60 years from the first president, Syngman Rhee, to the current 12th president, Guen-Hye Park. When discussing the Korean democracy, these events cannot be excluded since they took the major part of building Korean democracy.

Establishment of Republic of Korea

First, August 15th 1945, as Korea liberated from Japan, Korean peninsula was divided into two separate political systems at 38 parallel north, which still exist. South was governed by United States and North was governed by USSR. South Korea, current Republic of Korea, established the First Republic of Korea as the investiture of the first President Syngman Rhee by general election on May 10, 1948, then promulgation of the country’s first constitution by the first National Assembly on July 17. Election of May 10 was the first modernized form of general election in Korean peninsula and it was a historical moment, which democracy was first ever demonstrated in Korea. The First Republic of Korea, following the footstep of the international situation at that era, was experiencing chaos due to an extreme different ideology. During the time of chaos, outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 gave Koreans and Korean peninsula, which just liberated from Japan, tremendous mental and physical damage.

After the Korean War, to extend the Rhee’s government, on March 15, 1960, government committed a rigged election. Opposing against the government, citizens formed a civil revolution, also known as 4.19 revolution. As a result of the civil revolution, President Rhee resigned and the Rhee’s government collapsed.

After 12 years of Rhee’s reign since the establishment of the country, Rhee attempted to continue his long-term reign by systematic rigged election on the March 15, 1960 election. 4.19 Revolution was civil revolution started as a nationwide student political activity, later spread to nationwide revolution, opposing against the rigged election and long-term reign of Rhee’s government and demanding regime shift through democratic procedure. That day, only in Seoul 130 civilian died and over 1000 civilian were wounded.

This civil revolution was the first event that overthrew the orthodox government by civilian’s power and will in Korea. This epoch-making milestone gave direction of democratization in Republic of Korea.

Collapse of the Rhee’s government upraised chaos in the Korean politics, resulting military group’s involvement in politics. On May16, 1960, military coup occurred and established military junta.


Five Year Plan


The goal was to build a self-reliant industrial structure.


The goal was to modernize the industrial structure and to build import substitution Industries.


The goal was to build an export-oriented industrial structure by promoting heavy and chemical industries.


The goal was to promote development of industries that can effectively compete internationally in industrial export markets.
President Park’s era

President Chung-hee Park who established regime through 5.16 military coup violated significant portion of civil right to force his economic development agenda. Even though Park’s government violated civil rights, his government propelled in economic development agenda and established current South Korean economic infrastructure. One of the most successful Park’s agenda was Saemaeul Undong Movement(새마을운동), The New Community Movement, launched on April 22, 1970.  According to saemaul.com, “Saemaul Undong Movement is a movement seeking community development and modernization. Of all things, it is a movement to escape from poverty. This ideal is not limited to individual lifestyles and living conditions, but encompasses the whole community”. It emphasizes diligence, self-help, and cooperation. In the essay PARK CHUNG-HEE AND THE ECONOMY OF SOUTH KOREA by Quomar Muhammad, he discusses other economic plans during Park’s era, also known as Economic Planning Board (EPB). During the reign, President Par set Five-Year Developmental plan and table 1 illustrates the plan well.

Source: http://internationalbusiness.wikia.com

Due to the fact that the 5.16 coup d'état successfully and exceedingly propelled South Korean economy, the 5.16 coup d'état is more commonly called as 5.16 revolution. According to a Korean journal called President Park’s economic achievement by unknow author, during Park’s era, economic growth rate reached 13.8 percent, which is the greatest growth rate even until today. President Chung-hee Park’s success is sometimes compared to the miracle of the Nile River and is called the miracle of the Han River: the major river in South Korea. President Park said, “In human life, economics precedes politics or culture”.

On the one side, after gaining power by 5.16 revolution, President Chung-hee Park gained long-term seizure of power by revision of the constitution. People protested to gain democracy over corrupted government system.

Endeavor for Democracy

In October 26th, 1976, after long-term seizure of power, an insider assassinated President Park. After the assassination, President Doo-Hwan Chun gained power by military junta and as a result, political and societal chaos was aggravated.

At that time, civil society endeavored various ways to gain back the democracy from the military junta of President Chun. During the endeavors, on May 18, 1980, historical civil revolution, also known as “Gwangju Democratization Movement”, occurs.

Gwangju Democratization Movement demanded establishment of democratic government and abolishment of New Military Group: President Chun’s government, which came after President Park. This movement is a grassroots movement that set out in Gwanju area. At that time, martial law committed special army force to quell the demonstration. As a result, 229 citizens were killed and over 3000 people were missing.

From the moment of assassination of President Park, October of 1979, to Gwangju Democratization Movement, May of 1980, is compared to Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring” and is called “Seoul Spring”. Also, with the mentioned above 4.19 revolution, this event is considered one of the most important historical occurrence in Republic of Korean democratization. These pictures illustrate that cruelty during the Gwangju Democratization Movement.

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