Elections in Asia and the Pacific: A Data Handbook: South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific - Vol. 2

By Dieter Nohlen; Florian Grotz et al. | Go to book overview
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Korea (Republic of Korea/ South Korea)

by Aurel Croissant*


1 Introduction

1.1 Historical Overview

Since the independence of the southern part of the Korean peninsula in 1948, the political development of the Republic of Korea has followed a democratic-authoritarian cycle, which has produced six republics to date.

The first step in the process of South Korea's independence was the decision of the USAMGIK (United States Military Government in Korea) and the Soviet Union to establish two separate Korean states north and south of the 38th parallel. In the southern region, a draft Constitution was elaborated by a Parliament (National Assembly) which had been directly elected in May 1948. This National Assembly, in turn, elected Syngman Rhee (Yi Syng-man) for the presidential office. The independence of the Republic of Korea came eventually on 15 August 1948. In the new presidential form of government Rhee acted both as Head of State and of Government, with a Vice-President at his side. Yet after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Rhee gradually consolidated its one-man-rule. By resorting to the constabulary, the President pressured the re-elected National Assembly into amending the Constitution in his favour. The 1952 parliamentary elections brought the National Assembly under the control of Rhee's supporters. The subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections of the 1950s were subject to extensive vote-buying, abuse of electoral rules and fraud. The opposition parties remained legal and were allowed to contest the polls, but under such semi-competitive conditions they failed to achieve significant electoral support.

Due to his government's failure in the economic area, Rhee saw himself increasingly deprived of both domestic and foreign support. By

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