Monday, June 10, 2013

Korean Homework: Part Seven

Michael Breen explores the Korean political development subsequent to the North/South divide.  A reminder, his comments are based on his observations and research up to 1998; as such, a more thorough critique or well-rounded picture as of 2013 is not presented here.

"Breaking the Law"

➡In classic Confucian tradition, the ruler was supposed to lead by moral example.  Japanese occupation used law from the islands from the Emperor to govern the Koreans.  Park Chung-hee imposed law to benefits modernization and written in such a vague way as to give him leeway in interpretation.  As such Koreans have by and large viewed law as something from above.  A concept that laws are made by those who are elected following legitimate debate and that ordinary people are included in this mix and development of the law had not had opportunity figure in the common perception.


➡Democracy has been the "aspiration" of Koreans since their split.  Leaders of both North and South knew governmental legitimacy needed to be framed in "democracy".  But both sides had different idea of what "democracy" meant.
▶North Korea is still a dictatorship despite claiming to act in the interest of the people; free elections are not permitted.
▶South Korea called itself a liberal democracy and yet the behavior of leaders resembled more of a dictatorship until 1987.
➡Yes democracy does take time to develop.  The Korean political culture was not conducive to democracy.  The security threat from the North and the anti-communism ideology in the South hindered true democratic growth.
▶Syngman Rhee cracked down on political opposition; manipulated labor unions to earn "support" of the people; amended the constitution to prolong his rule
▶Chang Myon provided greater freedoms in a parliamentary style system which lacked strength to suppress a student protest movement and a coup occurred.
▶Park Chung-hee claimed democratic goals but delayed them to stabilize and grow the economy.  Ignore popular opinions (like with Seoul-Pusan motorway) and forced what he wanted; amended constitution to prolong his rule.

"Struggle for Democracy"
➡Weak acting president Choi Kyu-hah followed Park, but effective rule was done by martial law under General Chung Seung-hwa.  General Chun Doo-hwan staged a coup over this martial law on 12-12-1979 which in theory gives control to Choi.  Student protest movement re-emerged and Chun declared himself in charge.
▶Unofficial stories suggest that an agreement was made between US officials during the 1980 Carter to  Reagan transition to recognize the legitimacy of Chun's rule if 1) political dissident Kim Dae-jung was spared and 2) that Chun would step down at the end of a 7-year term and allow free and open elections for the South.
➡The awarding of the 1988 Olympics to Seoul brought a need for continued economic growth and political reform.  In mid 1987, the constitution was amended to allow for popular election of the president rather than selection by the National Assembly.  The December 1987 elections were nasty and loaded with complaints of voter fraud.  The opposition movement split and allowed the successor of Chun's party, Roh Tae-woo, to win.  Regardless of the procedural complaints, the process of electing a leader by the "will" of the people (under pressure/confusion or not) resulted with the first peaceful transfer of power for the South.
▶Democracy had only begun!!!

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