Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Democratic Performance and Park Chung-Hee Nostalgia in Korean Democracy

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Democratic Performance and Park Chung-Hee Nostalgia in Korean Democracy

Article excerpt

ALMOST A GENERATION AFTER THE THIRD WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION, citizens in emergent democracies manifest a resilient nostalgia toward former authoritarian regimes. What are the implications of this phenomenon for the consolidation and quality of emergent democracies? Though scholars have begun to pay more attention to this topic, few studies have attempted to analyze salient variables related to this nostalgia (Chang, Zhu, and Pak 2007; Ekman and Linde 2005). My study focuses on the case of South Korea. I seek to advance related scholarship in the realm of comparative democratic support.

In the context of emergent democracies, sentiment for a strong authoritarian leader is not unusual.1 Yet in South Korea (hereafter Korea) nostalgia for the Park Chung-hee government (1963-1979) seems to differ in several ways from that seen in other emergent democracies. For one thing, political support for Park's government goes beyond a reverence for a charismatic leader. For instance, in almost all surveys,2 Park has ranked consistently at the top of the list of former presidents whom citizens want to reelect and regard with the greatest respect. Moreover, according to the latest Korea Democracy Barometer (KDB) 2010 survey, more than one-third (34.9 percent) of the respondents selected Park's government as the best government after the 1960s. Political support for Park's government is wide enough to cover much more than a quarter (28.4 percent) of the progressive bloc and little more than a quarter (26.52 percent) of citizens from the Cholla region, political strongholds of the conservatives' political rival, Kim Dae-jung.3

Second, many citizens in Korea believe that Park Chung-hee laid the foundation for an economic miracle in Korea and respect him as the architect of the Korean model of economic development. One scholar called Park Chung-hee the founder of Koreanstyle economic development (Paik 2005). Citizens do not question this. According to the 2010 Korea Identity survey (East Asia Institute), almost all respondents (94.11 percent) said the Park government had played a positive role in economic growth, a figure well ahead of the score of so-called democratic governments, such as Kim Dae-jung (56.62 percent) and Roh Moo-hyun (58.59 percent).

Support for Park's government is a broad and complex phenomenon that goes beyond veneration for a former president. Dubbed the "Park Chung-hee nostalgia,"4 this sentiment among Korean citizens may account for the recent election of Park Guenhye, the first female president of Korea. Candidate of the ruling conservative New Frontier Party (Saenuri) and daughter of Park Chung-hee, Park Guen-hye won the 2012 presidential election with a narrow 3.5 percent margin over Moon Jae-in, a candidate from the Democratic United Party who had support from other opposition parties. Even though Park Guen-hye built her own political reputation as a principled politician and was perceived as the woman who could save the conservative party (the Grand National Party [GNP], which became the Saenuri Party), Park Chung-hee nostalgia unquestionably contributed to her victory.5

A second interesting feature of Korean nostalgia toward the authoritarian regime involves other emergent democracies. Although scholars generally consider Korea, Taiwan, and Japan to be liberal democracies (Diamond 2008a, 2008b), and Korea a miraculous success (Hahm 2008), a recent study has pointed to the "Asian Puzzle" (Chu and Huang 2010), that is, the tendency in these countries to procrastinate in regard to deepening democracy. In this context, the existence of the Park Chung-hee nostalgia in one of the few new liberal democracies in the region poses interesting questions. Is there, for example, any significant relationship between the Park Chung-hee nostalgia and slippage of democratic support?

Elucidating the determinants of the Park Chung-hee nostalgia can have significant implications for improving our understanding of the current status of Korean democracy, as well as its future prospects. …

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