Edited by Brian Bridges and Lok Sang Ho
Chapter 10: A Long and Winding Road: Democratization in Korea
Brian Bridges The twentieth century was not an easy one for the Koreans. The traumas of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the enduring mutual suspicions between the rival halves of Korea, and the resentment at foreign influences fed into both Korean nationalism and Korean politics. While, since 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea hereafter) has been ruled continuously by an authoritarian socialist dynasty, the Republic of Korea (South Korea hereafter) has had more than its fair share of political highs and lows. Rapid economic growth over the past four decades has significantly changed the nature of the South Korean economy, society and the people’s way of life, but the political development of the country has rarely seemed able to keep pace. The political history of South Korea is littered with authoritarian governments, violent overthrows of governments and, at least until the late 1980s, very brief and insubstantial periods of democracy. Since 1987, however, South Korea has been a functioning democracy, although not one without trials and tribulations. Democracy and democratic transitions have been the subject of much scholarly enquiry and varied definitions, but the starting point adopted here is the assumption that the basic reference points of democracy are electoral competition, political participation, equality, freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights and that democratization refers to the process by which such a ‘democratic’ polity is established.1 Various scholars have attempted to locate South Korea within these general processes of democratization and democratic...
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