Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Electoral Systems of the world-South Korea (Part 2 of 2)

Korea's first 27 years of democracy were highly eventful. Three distinctly different constitutions had been tried and replaced; the first for creating a dictatorial presidency, the second for creating a weak government, and now a third for being too democratic for the likings of President Park.

The Yushin Constitution

President Park decided to write up a totally new constitution, which he described as the Yushin, or Revitalisation constitution. Given that he had almost complete control over the process, it would be no surprise that he decided to write himself some sweeping new powers. 

Under the new law, the President would be elected for a six-year term, up from four. This is a long term for a President, but does not necessarily preclude a democratic system. However, as you may have guessed, there was a small catch; the President would be elected not directly, but by the 'National Conference for Unification', a nice term to describe an assembly of 2,359 people (but which could increase to a massive 5,000) who could basically be replaced by a smartphone, some speakers and a MP3 file of applause. While the NCU was technically elected, Park effectively controlled who was elected, thus meaning he had complete control over the body. 

The President had wide-ranging appointment powers. He could appoint the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, and members of the committee that decided the constitutionality of laws. It was fairly easy for him to take emergency powers, which would give him virtually all power in the country.

The National Assembly was still there, but its already limited powers over the executive were curtailed. In addition, a new electoral system was introduced. Two-thirds of the 219 member assembly was elected by the single-transferable vote in two-member districts, while one-third was elected by the National Conference for Unification. Given that the NCU was completely controlled by the President, this gave Park's Democratic Republican Party an effective one-third bonus. It also meant that in order to win a majority, any party opposed by the president would have to win 75% of the elected seats.

The single-non transferable vote would make that task extremely hard. Under this system, a party needs 33.4% of the vote in a district in order to win 50% of the seats. This meant that the Democratic Republicans would only need to win at least 33.4% to win 50% of the nationwide seats, which would be more than enough to guarantee them a majority.

The rationale for this new consolidation of powers with the President was in order to provide a united front for South Korea in potential talks with the North. While to some extent this was true, it seems awfully convenient that the only way to discuss with the North, according to Park, was to give Park more powers.

This document was approved by a referendum in 1972, when according to official figures, 92.3% voted Yes. This seems rather improbable, but it is unknown whether there was any fraud. 

Elections under Yushin

The first election to take place under the new constitution was the presidential election, held in the National Conference for Unification. Out of the 2,359 delegates, 2,357 voted to re-elect President Park, with two delegates casting informal votes (presumably they stayed in bed on election day). This election was utterly predictable, but a more interesting contest would take place in the next year.

In February 1973, the National Assembly went to an election. While it was almost impossible that the opposition would win a majority, it would be an interesting test of the government's support. Rather oddly for a Korean election, both parties retained their names from the previous election. However, a change had taken place in the electoral law; candidates were permitted to run as independents. This change was designed to weaken political parties; an obvious benefit for President Park, who wanted opposition to his government to be splintered as much as possible.

With the economy performing strongly, 38.7% of voters backed the Democratic Republicans (Park's party). This gave them 73, or half the elected seats in the country. When the 73 appointed seats were added on, the government held 146 seats in the National Assembly; a two-thirds majority. The New Democrats, weakened by the presence of independent candidates and by the newly formed Democratic Unification Party, won just 32.5% and 52 seats. The aforementioned Democratic Unification Party won 10.9% of the vote, but the electoral system meant that they could only win two seats. Independent candidates won 18.6%, and 19 independents were elected. This election ensured that President Park would have a compliant National Assembly, even if he didn't need one.

One of the more surprising sagas of 1973 was the kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung. Those who have read the previous post would know that Kim was the New Democratic candidate for the 1971 presidential elections. During the 1971 National Assembly campaign, Kim was 'acccidentally'  hit by a car. Fearing for his life, he fled to Japan, where he led international activist groups against Park.

In August 1973, Kim went to see the leader of the Democratic Unification Party in a Japanese hotel. When he left the meeting, he was abducted, drugged, placed in a hotel room, and moved to Osaka. The kidnappers then put him on a boat, which they took out into the Eastern Sea. Kim was tied up, and a weight was tied to him (presumably, you can see where this is going). However, US Ambassador to South Korea Philip Habib had heard about the intention to kill Kim, and had attempted to put pressure on the Korean government not to kill him. 

In the end, the boat carrying Kim was pursued by a Japanese patrol boat, and Kim's kidnappers decided to take him to the port city of Busan instead of throwing him into the sea. He was banned from participating in political activity, thus leaving the New Democrats without one of their most skilled politicians.

The next five years saw significant economic growth and industrialisation, but also increases in income disparity and inflation, and as the 1970s ended, economic growth began to slow. This made Park less popular, and in the 1978 presidential election, the National Conference for Unification responded to this increasing dissent by voting for him almost unanimously (only one delegate voted informally this time).

However, the legislative election was much less lopsided. New Democrats won 32.8% of the vote, but only 61 seats out of 231. Despite winning fewer votes (31.7%), the Democratic Republicans won 68 seats, while the Democratic Unification Party lost votes, falling to 7.4%, but gained a seat, thus ending up with three. Independent candidates won 28.1% and 22 seats. With the 77 presidential appointments, the Democratic Republicans retained a majority, but without popular support.

There are a myriad of reasons why the Democratic Republicans won the most seats. Campaigning was heavily restricted, which played to the advantage of the Democratic Republicans, who were the best known party. The single non-transferable vote also allowed the party to win seats in city areas where the Democratic Republicans polled poorly. Urban areas were also somewhat under-represented-Seoul had around 22% of the population of Korea, but only 14% of the elected seats.

The end of Yushin

As you can expect, student protesters did not take kindly to this result, and Park became more and more unpopular. Police invaded the New Democratic headquarters, which made the party more hardline in their opposition to the government, and radical anti-government activist Kim Young-sam was elected as party leader. When Kim (but not the same Kim that was kidnapped) was removed as New Democrat leader by court order, furious New Democrats presented their resignations from the National Assembly. In October 1979, riots broke out in the province of Pusan, and Park declared martial law in the region. The protesting continued despite this, and spread to other parts of the country.

On the 26th of October, President Park was dining with Kim Jae-kyu (a different Kim from the New Democrat leader), the director of the Korean Central Intellegence Agency. Park was urging Kim to be more repressive when dealing with protesters, but Kim had been having concerns for days that Park needed to go. Kim left the room to convene with other members of the KCIA. When he returned, he shot Park through the chest.

Exactly why Kim killed Park is still unclear. Kim claimed he did it in order to bring democracy back to Korea, while others say that he did it in order to save his own power. Whatever the motivation, Kim was executed in May 1980, along with most of the other plotters.

Following Park's death, Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah replaced him. Choi was confirmed by the National Council for Unification in a nail-biter of a result; he only won 96.7% of the vote. While this looks like a landslide, Park had been elected with 99%; some people were clearly unhappy with his ascension.

Choi attempted to roll back some of the more severe repressions of the Park era. However, he faced significant challenges from the military, especially General Chun Doo-hwan. Chun had designs on government, and was willing to resort to violence to get power.

In December of 1979, Chun Doo-hwan, backed up by rebellious regiments, invaded the military headquaters, and arrested the chief of staff and other commanders. This manoeuvre placed him in control of the South Korean military, and thus by extension the nation. While Choi remained as President, he was unable to effectively control the government.

Under Chun's effective rule, Korea was placed under martial law. This led to widespread protests, especially in the south-western city of Gwangju. In this city, the protesters took control of the municipal government buildings, which led to Chun sending in helicopter gunships and tanks in order to take control of the city. 165 protesters were killed and thousands were injured in this campaign, and to this day, Gwangu is the most liberal province in South Korea; liberal presidential candidates regularly receive >90% of the vote.

Following this event, Chun ordered the National Assembly to be dissolved and gave himself a military promotion. In August 1980, President Choi finally decided to end the charade and resigned, thus allowing Chun to ascend to the Presidency. Chun was elected with 99.99% of the vote by the National Conference for Unification (who else?), and decided to write a new constitution.

The Fourth Republican constitution had been less of a constitution and more of an attempt to legitimize dictatorial rule by Park. It was the fourth successive constitution in Korean history that had never seen a peaceful change in government (also, the fourth constitution overall-such a strange coincidence!). The excessive powers that it gave to an unaccountable president and central government, while designed to ensure economic growth, created public dissent and a government that ignored public input. Park's removal was a case of someone who lived by the sword dying by the sword, and under a democratic constitution, he would have been removed painlessly.

The new Constitution

Chun Doo-hwan was by no means interested in democracy. However, the fierce protests against Park and himself at Gwangju were signs that the Korean public were interested in having a say in their governance. As a result, he was forced to write a somewhat more democratic constitution.

Under the new constitution, the President would be elected for a single seven year term, by a new group called the Electoral College. This college was also elected, but the election was designed to give Chun a majority. The president's powers remained mostly intact, but he was no longer allowed to make decrees without the acquiescence of the National Assembly, except in times of war.

The National Assembly would no longer have one-third of its members appointed; two-thirds of the assembly would be elected through single non-transferable vote in two member districts, while one-third would be elected through proportional representation based on the shares of seats for parties. A party had to win five district seats to be eligible for list seats. However, the party that won the most seats in the districts would win two-thirds of these seats, thus giving the government an advantage.

The first elections under the new constitution took place in 1981. Chun Doo-hwan, the candidate of his own right-wing Democratic Justice Party was easily elected President by the Electoral College; he won 4755 votes to 404 for his nearest competitor, Yu Chi-song of the liberal Democratic Korea Party. Two other candidates, Kim Cheong-cheol of the conservative Korea Nationalist Party and Kim Ui-tae of the Korea Unification Party (I'll let you guess their main policy), won 81 and 26 votes respectively.

The National Assembly elections were much more interesting. Held the month after the presidentials, these elections were for 276 seats. The government were represented by the Democratic Justice Party, while the opposition were split into many groups, the major one being the Democratic Korea Party.

The election results were a fairly comfortable win for the Democratic Justice Party, which won 35.6% of the vote and 151 seats (or 54% of the seats). However, it is important to note that the Democratic Justice majority came from their two-thirds of the list seats; they only won 90 of the 184 district seats, and without the two-thirds mechanism they would have won only 138 seats.

If one took away the five-seat threshold, they would lose their majority, and win 136 seats, and using the vote instead of seat shares for calculating the list seats would give them 137 (with threshold) and 129 (without). Nonetheless, Chun saw this as an endorsement of his policies.

The opposition Democratic Korea Party won 21.6% and 81 seats (or 29% of the seats), a fairly low result compared to the New Democrat result in 1978. The single-non transferable system in two-member constituencies gave them an advantage, given that they were the second party. However, their weak performance showed that support for the liberals had been tempered by Chun's reforms.

The third party, the Korean Nationalists, won 13.3% of the vote and 25 seats (9% of the seats); 18 in districts and 7 in the lists. The party did not suffer too badly from being the third party; most of their district seats were won in provinces where they were the second party.

As for the others, the Civil Rights Party (a liberal outfit) won 6.7% of the vote, but only 2 seats (or 0.7% of the seats), presumably due to their inability to qualify for list seats and their support being spread throughout the country. The New Political Party, a vaguely socialist group, won 4.1% and 2 seats, while the obviously socialist Democratic Socialist Party won 2 seats off 3.2% of the vote. The tiny Democratic Farmers Party won 0.8% of the vote and 1 seat.

Chun had good reason to be happy with the results. Not only had he gained some badly needed democratic legitimacy ahead of a potential visit to the United States, he had also got the possibility of the National Assembly blocking his legislation out of the way.

Kim Dae-jung was not doing so well. He was released from house arrest under President Choi, but was locked up for sedition and conspiracy to commit treason after Chun took control. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to twenty years in prison after the United States intervened (coincidentally, Chun was fishing for an invitation to the United States at about the same time). Other former politicians of the Third and Fourth Republics had their civil rights removed during this period.

Chun's second term was relatively uneventful, with the exception of a North Korean bombing in the Burmese city of Yangon that killed several members of his cabinet. Economic growth remained fairly consistent, but democratic development didn't happen at the same pace.

By the time of the 1985 Assembly election, public pressure had grown on the Chun government to move towards democratisation. The government decided to dramatically reduce the list of people forbidden from political activity, in an attempt to satisfy this. The list was reduced by 84, but 14 names remained on it. These included influential opposition leaders Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam, and Kim Jong-pil. The latter had been a powerful figure under President Park who turned democrat (also still conservative) after he was forced out of power.

Despite this, the election attracted significant public interest. Voters turned out in large numbers to listen to candidates speak, especially in the cities where anti-government feeling ran highest. The major benefactor of this was the New Korea Democratic Party, a new party formed by dissidents who had been removed from the list of people forbidden from political activities. During this campaign, a number of taboo issues were discussed, including a number of financial scandals involving Chun.

On election day, the Democratic Justice Party came first, with 35.2% of the vote and 148 seats, a loss of 0.4% of the vote and 3 seats. This wasn't a bad result for Chun, but still showed that he did not have majority support. Again, Chun's majority came from the two-thirds bonus given to the largest party; without this, the government would have only 133 seats, six short of a majority. The New Korea Democratic Party won 29.3% of the vote and 67 seats. This result was weaker than the Democratic Korea result in 1981, but that was with no opposition for the liberal vote.

The Democratic Korea Party collapsed, winning 19.7% of the vote and 35 seats, a loss of 2% of the vote and 35 seats. While their vote did not go down too much, they suffered from being a third party in an electoral system that favours the top two; they won 12.7% of the seats off 19.7% of the vote. Most members of the party bolted to join the New Korea Democratic Party after the  election. The Korea Nationalist Party won 9.2% of the seats and 20 seats; a loss of 4 seats and 4% of the vote.

The result of this election, and the collapse of the DKP, created an effective two-party system in Korea. This meant that Chun faced a somewhat stiffer opposition, and was forced to entirely dismantle the list of people banned from political activities and to meet with the New Korea Democratic Party leadership.

As the end of Chun's term approached, it became clear that,unlike his predecessors, Chun would not seek to 'amend the constitution' to give himself more time in the presidential office. However, it was also made clear that the next presidential elections would not be direct, and that he would hand-pick a successor. In June 1987, Chun revealed this successor to be Roh Tae-woo, a high-ranking military official.

This decision led to widespread protests (surely you saw that coming). In a reaction to this, Roh decided to announce a wide package of reforms. These included the freedom of the press, the release of Kim Dae-jung, and improvements in human rights. In order to do this, a new constitution had to be written, thus ushering in a Sixth Republic.

The Fifth Republic constitution was fairly similar to the Fourth Republic. However, the unwillingness  and inability of Chun to write a completely authoritarian document meant that the government did not have enough power to resist public pressure. The electoral system that gave the largest party in the districts two-thirds of the list seats was a clever invention to give the Democratic Justice Party extra seats with some democratic legitimacy, but it was not enough to keep the government alive.

The Sixth Republic

After his promises, Roh could hardly attempt to row back without massive public outrage. As a result, the constitution of the new republic was one of the most democratic constitutions in Korea's history (not much of an achievement).

The constitution established a presidential system of government, with a directly elected president elected for a five-year term. He could not be re-elected. The president had the power to appoint the cabinet, and nominated a Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, both of who had to be confirmed by the National Assembly. He had the power to submit a budget to the National Assembly, and veto legislation passed. He could initiate legislation.

The National Assembly would be entirely directly elected with a four-year term, and would have no less than 200 members. It had the power to pass legislation, to override presidential vetoes with two-thirds of its membership, and to approve (but not recall) the Prime Minister. They could impeach the President with two-thirds of their membership. 

Amending the constitution required a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, approval by the President, and a 50%+1 vote in a national referendum with 50% turnout. A special provision applied to amendments dealing with presidential elections; any amendment made to the way the President was elected would not apply to the incumbent President. This was designed to ensure that presidents couldn't fiddle the constitution to give themselves more power.

This referendum was approved by a referendum with a massive margin: 94.4% voted Yes off a 78% turnout. 

The first presidential election took place in 1987. Roh ran for election as the candidate of the Democratic Justice Party, and he faced opposition from three major candidates. Kim Young-sam ran as the candidate of the centre to centre-right Democratic Reunification Party (with 45 seats in the National Assembly), Kim Dae-jung ran as the candidate of the more centrist Peace and Democracy Party, and Kim Jong-pil ran as the candidate of the New Democratic Republican Party (a throwback to Kim's old friend Park's party). 

The observant amongst you may notice that these three Kims are the three leaders of the pro-democracy movement mentioned before. Now, Korean presidential elections take place using the plurality system; the system where voters cast one vote, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Now, the opposition have three candidates, with support distributed between them and the government has one candidate, with all government support for him. This meant that the opposition vote would be split.

This is indeed what happened. On election day, Roh was re-elected with 36.6% of the vote to 28% for Kim Young-sam, 27% for Kim Dae-jung, and 8.1% for Kim Jong-pil. While opposition candidates won 63% of the vote, the opposition did not win the presidency due to this split. 

Legislative elections took place one year later. A new electoral system was used. The single-member plurality system was used to elect 224 members, while a modified party-list system was used for the remaining 75 seats. Under this list system, the largest party in the plurality districts would automatically win 50% of the list seats, and the remaining seats would be allocated between the parties based on their seat shares.

The election results were not good for the Democratic Justice Party. The party lost 21 seats from 1985, falling to 125 seats; 25 short of a majority. Kim Dae-jung's Peace and Democracy Party came second in terms of seats, winning 70 seats, but third in terms of votes, with 19.3%. This was due to the Peace and Democracy votes being dominant in Gwangju and Jeolla, meaning that these votes were more efficiently cast. Kim Young-sam's Democratic Reunification Party won 59 seats, but 23.8% of the vote. Kim Jong-pil's Democratic Republicans won 15.8% and 35 seats, thus cementing their status as the third anti-government party.

Roh pressed ahead with democratic reform, and increased Korea's prominence in the world through the Olympic Games in 1988. However, rather oddly, he did not investigate into corruption committed under the Chun era.

Another key impact of Roh's presidency was the creation of a new party. Roh merged his Democratic Justice Party into Kim Young-sam's Democratic Reunification Party and Kim Jong-pil's New Democratic Republican Party to create the Democratic Liberal Party. This merger gave Roh a majority in the National Assembly, and cemented Kim Dae-jung as the opposition leader.

In 1992, legislative and presidential elections took place. The Democratic Liberals lost 64 seats, falling to 149, which is one short of a majority, and 38.5% of the vote. The Democratic Party (the renamed Peace and Democracy Party) won 97 seats, and 29.2% of the vote. A new entrant on to the scene, the right-wing United People's Party, won 31 seats off 17% of the vote, creating a useful ally for the Democratic Liberals.

In the presidential elections of the same year, Kim Young-sam ran as the Democratic Liberal candidate, and was elected with 42% of the vote. Kim Dae-jung, as the Democrat candidate, won 33.8%. Interestingly, most of his votes came from the provinces of Gwangju and Jeolla (his home), where he won by over 90%, whereas Kim Young-sam's strongest provinces gave him only 70%. Hyundai executive Chung Ju-yung ran as the United People's Party candidate, and won 16.3%. He performed strongest in the north-eastern province of Gangwon.

After this loss, Kim Dae-jung took up a teaching position in the UK, and many thought that it was the end of his political career. However, he returned in 1995 to form a new political party, the National Congress for New Politics (joined by most of the members of the Democratic Party), in order to contest the 1996 legislative elections, presumably in order to test the water for a presidential run.

In the same year, Kim Young-sam renamed his Democratic Liberal Party to the New Korea Party, for no obvious reason (this tends to become a pattern). The electoral system was changed; the 46 list seats were changed to party-list proportional representation based on votes cast separately from the districts. Finally, the United People's Party were renamed the United Liberal Democrats, a party with exactly the same ideology. Kim Jong-pil, who had left the New Korea Party, was made leader of this new party. So, all three political factions (centre-right, liberal, and right-wing) went into the 1996 legislative elections with fresh new names.

The results were fairly inconclusive. The New Korea Party won 139 seats, well short of the 150 needed for a majority, and 34.5% of the vote. Kim Dae-jung's National Congress won 79 seats and 25% of the vote. This was less than the Democrat total in 1992, but that was when the Democrats were the only party on the left. The remaining Democrats won 15 seats and 11.2% of the vote; they split the vote on the left and gave the New Korea Party a number of seats where the liberals had a majority. The United Liberal Democrats won 16.2% of the vote and 50 seats, a strong result that would give them an important role in the next parliament.

Despite the underwhelming result, Kim Dae-jung decided to run for president in 1997 as the candidate of the National Congress for New Politics. This turned out to be fortuitous timing indeed, as the Asian Economic Crisis occurred this year. The New Korea Party changed their name to the Grand National Party, and nominated Prime Minister Lee Hoi-chang. Lee In-je ran as the candidate of the conservative New People's Party, Cho Soon ran as the Democratic nominee, and Kim Jong-pil ran as the United Liberal Democrat candidate.

During the campaign, Kim Jong-pil withdrew in favour of Kim Dae-jung, and Cho Soon withdrew in favour of Lee Hoi-chang. This was a consequence of the plurality system; candidates feared splitting the vote and electing an opposition candidate. Despite this, Lee In-je did not pull out.

On election day, Kim Dae-jung was elected President with 40.3% of the vote to 38.7% for Lee Hoi-chang and 19.3% for Lee Hoi-chang. The result was the first peaceful and democratic transition of power in Korean history. Kim recieved a significant share of his vote from the liberal strongholds of Gwangju and Jeolla, but also comfortably won the cities of Seoul and Incheon, and the north-western province of Chungcheong, a stronghold of Kim Jong-pil.

Dae-jung formed a coalition with Kim Jong-pil in order to have a stronger position in the National Assembly. He introduced a number of economic reforms in order to satisfy the International Monetary Fund's requests, and received loans in exchange for this in order to help solve the problems caused by the Asian Economic Crisis. He arranged a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.

He also renamed the National Congress for New Politics, calling it the Millennium Democratic Party. A number of conservative politicians joined the new party, and by the time of the 2000 election, the government had 149 seats.

At the 2000 legislative election, the three main parties were led by the same people. Dae-jung faced a somewhat divided electorate, and the results were rather confusing. The National Assembly was reduced to 276 members. The Grand National Party won 39% of the votes and 133 seats. This represented a loss of 6 from 1996, but a gain of 13 from where they had been before the election. They came very close to a majority. Dae-jung's Millennium Democratic Party won 115 seats, a gain of 16, and 36% of the vote. The big loser in the election was the United Liberal Democrats, which won 9.8% of the vote and 17 seats. The strong result for the Grand National Party created a more hostile legislative environment for Kim Dae-jung.

Kim Dae-jung could not run for re-election in 2002, and was replaced by cabinet member Roh Moo-hyun. Roh ran against Lee Hoi-chang, the Grand National candidate, and was very narrowly elected, winning 48.9% to 46.6% for Lee.

Lee's presidential term was a tumultuous one. He created a new liberal political party, the Uri Party (Our Party), composed of loyalists to his government dissatisfied with the amount of support given to Roh by the Millennium Democrats. In 2003, ahead of the National Assembly elections, the Assembly voted 193-2 (Uri members abstained) to impeach Roh for violation of the Constitution, for supporting the Uri Party in parliamentary elections (he is supposed to be impartial). A violent fight in the National Assembly ensued, but the Constitutional Court reinstated him as president.

Voters gave him support in the 2004 legislative election, giving the Uri Party 152 seats out of 299, and 38.3% of the vote. The Grand National Party, under the leadership of Park Chung-hee's daughter Park Geun-hye, won 121 seats and 35.8% of the vote, a fairly weak result. In third place was the left-wing Democratic Labour Party, which won 13% of the vote. However, since their vote was spread across the country, they only won two district seats, and won eight in the proportional tier despite the proportional tier being much smaller.

The Millennium Democratic Party collapsed. Without the backing of the government, and with liberal-minded voters angry at their support for the impeachment of Roh, they won just 7.1% of the vote and 9 seats, all either in the proportional tier or in Kim Dae-jung's home of Jeolla (and even there, they were beaten by the Uri Party).

With this boost to his support, and with control over the National Assembly, Roh introduced a number of controversial policies. The main one was the moving of the capital from Seoul to Chungcheong, which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. It was seen as an attempt to buy votes from the region, which voted for the Uri Party in the 2004 elections.

With closer relations with North Korea causing controversy, and the economy slowing, the Uri Party began to collapse. In 2005, the Grand National Party swept by-elections across the country. Roh's approval ratings were tanking, and he aired the possibility of a 'grand coalition' with the Grand National Party. These advances were rebuffed, and Roh was left by himself.

While all this was happening, a change was happening on the left. The Millennium Democratic Party had renamed themselves the Democratic Party (that must have taken ages to think up), and with the discrediting of the Uri Party, the party's stocks were rising. In 2007, the party came second in local elections.

In the same local elections, Uri won only the region of North Jeolla. The Democrats won Gwangju and South Jeolla, and the remaining areas fell to the Grand National Party.

These results meant that the liberals were split, which could mean a massacre at the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. As a result, later in 2007, the two parties merged to create the even more excitingly named United New Democratic Party. This new coalition held 140 seats in the National Assembly.

In 2007, Roh's term ended. He was ineligible to run for a second term (not that he would be re-elected or re-nominated). Chung Dong-young was comfortably chosen as the United New Democrat nominee (a fairly thankless job, given that the party was heading for defeat), but a closer race took place for the Grand National nomination. Lee Myung-bak, the Mayor of Seoul, ran against Park Geun-hye. Lee was narrowly elected with 49.5% to 48.1% for Park. Lee Hoi-chang ran as an independent to the right of the Grand National Party, which concerned the right that their vote would be split.

However, the Grand Nationals had little to fear. Lee Myung-bak won 48.7% of the vote, to just 26.1% for Chung and 15% for Lee Hoi-chang. Only Jeolla was won by the left, and in Chungcheong Lee Hoi-chang came second.

The new president did not have much control over the National Assembly, but that was only a matter of time. A number of new parties were formed ahead of the election. Lee Hoi-chang formed the Liberty Forward Party, a radical right-wing group, while a group of supporters of Park Geun-hye formed the Pro-Park Coalition.

The Grand National Party won 153 seats, and 37.4% of the proportional vote. This was a comfortable victory, and enough seats to allow the president to implement his agenda. The United New Democratic Party won just 81 seats, and 25.2% of the proportional vote, a very poor result. The small right-wing Liberty Forward Party won 18 seats and 6.84% of the proportional vote, while the Pro-Park Coalition won 13.2% of the proportional vote (but only 3.7% of the district vote) and 14 seats. The good results for the minor right parties gave the Grand National Party some help in the event that they lost members in by-elections.

The Democratic Labour Party won 5.7% and 5 seats. They lost votes due to the creation of the New Progressive Party, which won 2.9% of the vote and no seats. A new liberal party, the Creative Korea Party, won 3 seats and 3.8% of the list vote. In short, the right had much to be happy about after the election. They had total control over the Assembly, and the presidency was held by them.

Lee Myung-bak entered office promising to improve US-Korea relations (which had been weak under Roh). However, he had a serious problem right at the start. In the US, a number of cows had been found with mad cow disease, and imports of US beef to Korea had been stopped. Soon after he was sworn in, imports of US beef were resumed. This met with massive protests, and Lee's approval dropped below 20%.

However, this soon blew over, and Lee returned to normal popularity after his government gained stability. He did not do so well after this, though. There were a number of scandals that reduced his popularity dramatically, and by the end of his term in 2012, the renamed Grand National Party (it was renamed to Saenuri, or New World) was forced to abandon him.

Park Geun-hye led the Saenuri Party into the 2012 legislative election. By strategically sidelining Lee, Park was able to overcome an early lead for the Democratic United Party (the renamed United New Democratic Party; South Korean party names are so wild and zany), to win 152 seats and 42.8% of the vote. The DUP dominated in Seoul and Jeolla, but the government did well across the rest of the country. In the end, the DUP ended up with 127 seats and 36% of the list vote. The United Progressive Party (the renamed Democratic Labour Party) won 10.3% and 13 seats, the strongest result for a left-wing party in Korean history. The Liberty Forward party won just 3.2% of the vote and 5 seats.

This result propelled Park to the presidential nomination for the Presidential election later that year, with 83% of the vote in the primary. National Assemblyman Moon Jae-in ran as the Democratic United Party candidate. The election was hardly close; Park consistently led throughout the campaign. On the day, Park won 51.5% of the vote to 48% for Moon.

In effect, the South Korean Sixth Republic has been a fairly stable constitution, which has been designed to balance a strong president with a consultative assembly. The fairly majoritarian electoral system for the National Assembly, and the need for cohesion in presidential elections, means that Korea has a fairly polarised two-party system. Only recently have the progressives been making inroads, and even then, concerns about the North have led to the United Progressive Party being banned recently (however, the more moderate split Justice Party still exists).

However, the one-term limit for presidents does mean that long-term thinking is harder, and it seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction to dictatorial presidents. It would be sensible for South Korea to consider changing this portion of the constitution in the future. As the Roh Moo-hyun fiasco showed, the power of impeachment needs to be brought closer to the people.

It might also be advisable for South Korea to consider a more proportional system for the National Assembly. Increasing the currently meagre 18% of list seats would help make the President more responsible to the Assembly, as it would be less likely that the President's party would win a majority in the National Assembly with a small share of the vote.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Editor reserves the right to delete any comments on grounds including, but not limited to, irrelevant, offensive and threatening.