Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development

Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development

Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development

Korean Politics: The Quest for Democratization and Economic Development


Extraordinary political and economic changes have rocked the Republic of Korea over the past fifty years. John Oh, a Korean-born political scientist, has written a clear and insightful account of government and politics throughout this turbulent period. His chronological and thematic study analyzes both the conflicts between authoritarian forces and populist/democratic elements and the nation's determined efforts to achieve economic growth. In relating Korea's transformation to a democratic society and an industrial state, Oh explains how the country's politics and economy are interrelated. He covers the launching of the first democratic republic, the emergence of military regimes, and the growth of the middle class and the civil society. He also reveals the causes of collusion between political and economic groups which led to corruption, structural anomalies, and economic crises. Korean Politics is the first English-language book to draw on original Korean-language sources including testimonies from the trials of former presidents in its analysis of their military-dominated governments. The book concludes with succinct discussions on the first peaceful transfer of power to an opposition leader, Kim Dae-jung. Timely and authoritative, it is an ideal classroom text and an indispensable reference on contemporary Korea.


On February 25, 1998, for the first time in half a century of turbulent politics, Korea experienced a peaceful transfer of power. Kim Dae-jung was inaugurated as the fifteenth president of the Republic of Korea on a rare smog-free and sunny morning in Seoul. It was a historic landmark: an orderly transfer of power from a long-entrenched ruling camp to the opposition was accomplished at a simple inaugural ceremony. If a basic test of democracy is the ability of the people to "kick the rascals out" through free and fair elections, South Koreans passed this test fifty years after the establishment of the republic in 1948.

The celebration launching a "government for the people" was subdued, however, because of the economic cataclysm that had occurred in the late fall of 1997. the financial crisis had led to a $57 billion bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced on December 3, just before the presidential election on December 18. Seem-

Ingly evaporated overnight was the vaunted "miracle on the Han" that had been triggered in the mid-1960s. the sustained quest for economic growth and development came to a screeching halt, and the country now faced the daunting task of implementing drastic reforms in the industrial-financial sector.

Thus two epochal events occurred almost simultaneously. Just when the quest for democratization reached an important turning point, economic meltdown stunned the nation. the economy appeared to have passed the danger of a sovereign insolvency by the time of the launching of the new government. However, a new, minority president, who had garnered 40.3 percent of the votes, together with a minority coalition in . . .

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