South Korea Recent History

By | November 6, 2021


For the development up to 1948 see Korea.

Military dictatorship

After the Korean War (1950–53), according to philosophynearby, South Korea continued to lean closely to the USA (1954 entry into force of a defense alliance, American financial aid). The authoritarian ruling President Rhee Syngman (Lee Seung-man; confirmed in office in 1952 and 1956) was forced to resign after his third, heavily manipulated re-election (March 1960) due to student unrest (April 27, 1960). New elections at the end of July 1960 resulted in the victory of the opposition Democratic Party; in August 1960, Yun Posun (Yun Bu-seon) became president, in the same month Chang Myun (Chang Myeon)Prime Minister (thus establishing the »Second Republic« after the first in 1948). On May 16, 1961, a military junta overthrew the government and eliminated democratic institutions; in July 1961 General Park Chung Hee (Park Jeong-hui) took over power, initially as chairman of the “Supreme Council for National Construction” established in May 1961, after retiring from active military service since 1963 as president; thus began the “Third Republic”).

Park strengthened the authoritarian structures through several constitutional amendments and made use of a secret service created in 1961 (known as the “Korean Central Intelligence Agency”, abbreviation KCIA) to secure his rule. In terms of foreign policy, South Korea established diplomatic relations with the former colonial power Japan in 1965 and supported the USA in the Vietnam War with troops (around 50,000 soldiers). After Parks was murdered on October 26. In 1979 by the head of the secret service, Choi Kyu Hah (Choe Gyu-ha; * 1919, † 2006) became president. In May 1980, the army put down a riot in Gwangju. After Choi’s resignation in August 1980, General Chun Doo Hwan (Jeon Du-hwan) settled elect as president and then tried to eliminate the opposition, among other things. 1980 with the death sentence against opposition leader Kim Dae Jung (Kim Dae-jung); international pressure later led to his pardon. After serious unrest in 1987, the government was forced to meet a key demand of the opposition by reintroducing direct elections to the president. Due to the split in the opposition camp – with Kim Young Sam (Kim Yeong-sam) and Kim Dae Jung running two presidential candidates – Roh Tae Woo (No Tae-u) from the ruling Democratic Justice Party was able to prevail in the presidential elections in December 1987 February 1988).

Change of power

In 1990 the ruling party, the previous opposition party for reunification and democracy under Kim Young Sam and the New Democratic-Republican Party of the former prime minister and intelligence chief Kim Jong Pil (Kim Jong-pil) merged to form the Democratic-Liberal Party (DLP) (to 1995). Kim Young Sam won the presidential election in December 1992 (took office in February 1993). His main legacy was the elimination of the political influence of the military: At the end of 1995, the former presidents Roh Tae Woo and Chun Doo Hwan were arrested and convicted in 1996 for high treason and corruption (pardon and release at the end of 1997).

In December 1997 the population elected the opposition politician Kim Dae Jung as president (took office in February 1998). South Korea was able to recover relatively quickly from the effects of the financial and economic crisis in Asia (1997/98). Domestically, however, Kim lost support; in the parliamentary elections in April 2000, the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) became the strongest party, followed by the Democratic Millennium Party (MDP) led by Kim Dae Jung. Kim’srapprochement with North Korea (“sunshine policy”) remained controversial at home. Recently, corruption scandals in which his sons were involved caused another loss of popularity.

The presidential elections on December 19, 2002 were narrowly won by the MDP candidate, former civil rights attorney Roh Moo Hyun (Roh Mu-hyeon) (took office in February 2003). As a non-political establishment and v. a. Politicians supported by the younger generation remained limited and controversial in their effectiveness. Accused by the opposition of violating the electoral law and incompetence, Roh was as the first South Korean head of state to be removed from office by a clear majority of members of parliament in March 2004. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the Uri party, which is close to the suspended president, achieved an absolute majority, while the opposition parties GNP and v. a. the MDP – which had previously pushed the impeachment proceedings against Roh – suffered massive losses. In May 2004, the Constitutional Court annulled Roh’s impeachment and reinstated him.

South Korea Recent History