Friday, December 9, 2005

The 80's (Part III)

Like his predecessor Park, Chun Doo-hwan was elected president by an electoral committee in February 1981. Before the 1981 parliamentary elections, political parties were unbanned.

In January 1985, two leading politicians, Kim Young-sam (金泳三, bio Infoplease Wiki) and Kim Dae-jung (金大中), established a new opposition party, called the New Korea Democratic Party (NKDP). The emergence of a powerful opposition force led to a political crisis in 1987 and eventually to democratization when the Sixth Republic was established in the winter of the same year.

The Korean government changed the electoral rules whenever it became clear that the electoral system had lost its use, hence the frequent changes of provisions for presidential elections and the electoral system used in legislative elections. In the long-term, however, this strategy was only of limited use. On several occasions elections developed an unintended political dynamic which forced the authoritarian governments to violate their own rules of the electoral game. After a while, the strategy of legitimization in semi-competitive elections failed. This failure, in turn, was the beginning of the end of the authoritarian rule of presidents Syngman Rhee (1960), Park Chung-hee (1978) and Chun Doo-hwan (1985).

With regard to the integration of the political will of the Korean people, the electoral system worked quite efficiently, at least from the late 1950s, as the decreasing fragmentation of the party system shows.

The country’s domestic policy crisis escalated in the summer of 1987 as a result of skilful political maneuvering on the part of the opposition leaders, the strategic failures of the ruling elite and external influences, such as pressure from the United States and the then upcoming Olympic Games. The country’s major cities saw mass protests.

Chun’s designated successor, Roh Tae-woo (盧泰愚, bio Wiki), declared the democratic opening of the regime on 6 June 1987. In bilateral talks, the New Korea Democratic Party and the Democratic Justice Party negotiated the transition to the Sixth Republic. The institutional democratization was completed a few months later, after the approval of a new constitution by a referendum and the election of the president.

Roh Tae-woo won the election in 1987 with a little more than one third of the total valid votes. With a representative of the old regime in the top position, the military forces were rapidly integrated into the democratic system. The moderate reform policies pursued by Roh proved to be compatible with the self interests of the main body of the old regime’s supporters.

The defeat forced the opposition to reform their own confrontation strategies. In the early 1990s, this resulted in the reorganization of the party system. The resulting situation provided, during the initial years of democratic rule, a fruitful basis for the creation of a consensus among the relevant political parties and within the mainly conservative populace of the country that a return to an authoritarian regime was not the road to the future.

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