South Korea History

South Korea History

According to Localcollegeexplorer, the Republic of Korea, adopted in 1948 a presidential constitution, had substantially maintained unchanged, in the following decades, the authoritarian and repressive characteristics that had characterized the regime of the first President of the Republic, Syngman Rhee, who remained in office until 1960. Marked by the assumption of an ever wider power by the presidents of the Republic Pak Chŏng-hŭi and then Chun Doo Hwan, the following years had registered, in the economic field, an intense industrial growth, but they had also remarked, on the level political, the illiberal features of a regime that did not tolerate any manifestation of dissent and that had silenced the democratic opposition, practically non-existent until the mid-1980s.

In the second half of the Eighties the internal situation of the Republic of Korea had been characterized by considerable social tensions and by a series of large popular and student demonstrations, at the basis of which was the request for an effective democratization of the country. Faced with them, the authorities had often reacted violently, but in 1987 the government was finally forced to agree with the parliamentary opposition a new Constitution, which established the election by universal suffrage of the President of the Republic (with a non-renewable five-year mandate) and the limitation of his powers for the benefit of the National Assembly (elected for four years by universal suffrage), as well as a series of provisions aimed at guaranteeing the fundamental freedoms of citizens. At the beginning of the nineties, contacts with P’yŏngyang were intensified, albeit with persistent difficulties, in order to achieve a peaceful reunification of the country (for subsequent developments in relations between the two states see Korea, People’s Democratic Republic of: History, in this Appendix); important developments also took place at the international level, with admission to the UN (1991), the opening of diplomatic relations with the countries of Eastern Europe and the USSR (1989 – 90), the establishment of with China (1992). However, the internal situation remained difficult, despite the fact that the new Liberal Democratic Party of the President of the Republic Roh Tae-woo controlled over two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, ensured by the merger that took place in 1990.between the Democratic Party of Justice and the Democratic Party for Reunification, led by former opposition leader Kim Yung Sam. The persistence of popular discontent continued to provoke social unrest, while student protests, severely repressed by the authorities, resumed with intensity. It was in this climate that we arrived at the political elections held in March 1992, in which the Liberal Democrats were the first party in the country, without, however, succeeding in obtaining an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

The Liberal Party won the 38, 5 % of the vote and 149 seats out of 299, while a very successful (29, 2 % of the vote and 97 seats) was the Democratic Party, born from the merger of the Party for Peace and Democracy with two minor formations and led by Kim Dae Jung, historical opponent of the regime. Higher than expected (17, 4 % of the vote and 31 seats) was the result of the Party for National Unification, founded two months earlier by Chun Ju-Yung, founder and honorary president of the largest industrial complex Hyundai.

Following the election results, Roh Tae-woo was replaced at the head of the Liberal Democratic Party by Kim Yung Sam, who in December 1992 was elected president of the Republic, the first civilian after more than thirty years of military rule (he obtained 42 % of the votes, compared to 34 % of Kim Dae Jung and 16 % of Chun Ju-Yung). Taking office in February 1993, Kim Yung Sam showed that he wanted to respect the commitments made during the electoral campaign, promoting a vast action of moralization of public life that affected the most important political and economic circles of the country and that did not spare his two predecessors, accused of corruption and of being involved in the plot of the 1979 against the then head of state Pak Chŏng-hŭi and in the Kwanchu massacre of 1980 (in August 1996 Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo were sentenced, respectively, to the death penalty and to twenty-two years and six months of imprisonment, sentences then commuted to life imprisonment for the first and to seventeen years of imprisonment for the second).

Involved in financial scandals of various magnitudes were also many managers of the most important industrial complexes (chaebol), who had been guaranteed unlimited freedom of maneuver in previous years: they ranged from the possibility of entering sectors unrelated to their original activities., to the widespread practice of the registration of shares and bank deposits to front names or fictitious names (only in August 1993 the obligation of nomination was introduced in all financial transactions). This represented one of the aspects of the impetuous economic growth of the country, also based on a labor policy centered on low wages, high number of working hours and demand for high performance in terms of human commitment, on the absence of adequate rules on employment. safety and accident prevention at work.

Despite the scandals touched upon Kim Yung Sam himself and despite a certain decline in his popularity (a reflection occurred in the administrative consultations of June 1995, when the Liberal Democrats, also defeated in Sŏul, established themselves in only five of the fifteen cities and provinces in which it voted), the legislative elections of April 1996 marked the substantial affirmation of the ruling party, capable of taking advantage of the tension created after a foray of North Korean troops in the demilitarized zone between the two states and of presenting itself as the highest guarantor of national interests. In a situation characterized by the presence of recently established political formations, the New Korea Party (name assumed by the Liberal Democratic Party in December 1995) won the 34, 5 % of the vote and 139 seats, while the main opposition force became, with 25, 3 % of the vote and 79 deputies, the National Congress for the new policy, founded by Kim Dae Jung in September 1995; the Democratic Party saw its presence in the National Assembly reduced to 15 deputies, while 50 seats went to the United Liberal Democrats Party, a formation established in March 1995 on the initiative of the more conservative component of the ruling party, led by Kim Jong Pil. The new parliament found itself facing, after years of considerable economic growth and the search for maximum competitiveness at an international level, some worrying symptoms of crisis, made evident by the growing foreign debt, the extreme fragility of the banking system and increasingly strong social tensions.. In December 1996 the government passed new labor legislation, which facilitated the dismissal procedures, allowed the replacement of striking workers and allowed the conclusion of temporary and seasonal contracts; on the same occasion (during a session of parliament held at 6 am on 26 December, in the absence of the opposition, which had not been informed), a law was also passed that strengthened the powers of the public security services. Faced with what they believed to be an abrupt halt in the democratization process, the trade unions (the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, independent, founded in November 1995, and also the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, an official organization, hitherto always aligned with the positions governmental) and the democratic opposition promoted, at the beginning of 1997, a series of strikes and protests, which did not abate after the decision of the National Assembly, in March, to postpone the application of the new rules on dismissals.

Meanwhile, in January, the bankruptcy of the industrial group Hanbo had occurred, which had contracted enormous debts with the main banks in the country, deriving illicit benefits from a vast system of corruption involving members of the government and numerous political and financial circles (including one of the sons of Kim Yung Sam himself, which greatly damaged the president’s public image). While the repercussions of the scandal affected the top leaders of the country, the financial crisis that hit the Asian markets in the following months began to make its effects felt on the South Korean economy, characterized by strong speculative phenomena and by the banking system crisis, by the state of considerable difficulty of the big chaebols and the bankruptcy of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises.

At the beginning of December 1997, the use of the International Monetary Fund was announced for an emergency aid program, amounting to 57 billion dollars and conditional on the adoption of a strong austerity policy. Also in December the presidential elections took place, which for the first time recorded the defeat of the government candidate and the victory of the opposition candidate. Despite his good personal reputation, in fact, former judge Lee Hoi-chang (supported by the Nationalist Party, born in November 1997 with the merger of the New Korea Party and the Democratic Party) was defeated by Kim Dae Jung, who obtained the 40, 3 % of the votes against 38,7 % of the rival. Faced with the new President of the Republic and the new Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil (with whom Kim Dae Jung, despite the very different positions he had in the past, had made a political agreement before the elections), many tasks remained, linked to the great problems of the country: the consolidation of democratic institutions and the need to guarantee greater government stability, the moralization of public life, the relaunch of the process of peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula and above all the solution of the economic and financial crisis, which was accompanied by serious consequences on the social level. After six months of difficult negotiations and substantial paralysis of legislative activity, in August 1998 Kim Jong Pil was confirmed prime minister by the National Assembly.

South Korea History