According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: From 1948 to 1988, politics in the Republic of Korea were dominated by the executive arm of the government with military backing. Despite this, there were active opposition parties and, with the implementation of the revised 1987 constitution, political parties have had a greater governmental role. In the presidential election of December 1987, the governing Democratic Justice Party (DJP), with Roh Tae Woo as its candidate, won 37 percent of the vote; the Reunification Democratic Party (RDP), with Kim Young Sam, won 28 percent; the Peace and Democracy Party (PDP), with Kim Dae Jung, won 27 percent; and the New Democratic-Republic Party (NDRP), with Kim Jong Pil, won 10 percent. In a crucial election for the National Assembly in April 1988, the DJP gained only 34 percent of the popular vote, allowing the opposition parties to control the assembly. This was the first time since 1952 that the government party did not have a majority in, and hence control of, the National Assembly. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“In a surprise move in January 1990, the DJP merged with two of the opposition parties, the RDP and the NDRP, to form a new majority party, the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). In July of that year, two opposition parties, the PDP and the Democratic Party (DP) merged, retaining the latter's name. In September 1991, the DP agreed to merge with another opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), then led by the veteran oppositionist, Kim Dae Jung, forming a new DP.

“The National Assembly election on 24 March 1992 saw 38.5 percent of the vote go to the DLP; 29.2 percent to the DP; 17.3 percent to the Unification National Party, which later changed its name to the United People's Party (UPP); and 15 percent to other parties. The actual distribution of seats in the National Assembly shifts as members frequently switch among parties. In the presidential election on 18 December 1992, 41.5 percent of the vote went to Kim Young Sam of the DLP; 33.8 percent to Kim Dae Jung of the DP; 16.3 percent to Chung Ju Yung of the UPP; and 8 percent to candidates of various smaller parties.

“Following the 1992 elections, Korea's largest political parties began a period of reorganization. The DLP transformed into the New Korea Party (NKP), while Kim Dae Jung formed a new opposition party, the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP). In the National Assembly election on 11 April 1996, the NKP won 139 seats; the NCNP, 79 seats; the ULD, 50 seats; and the DP, 15 seats. The remaining 16 seats were won by independents. The surprise of the election was the success of the ULD, a conservative party led by former premier Kim Jong Pil.

“In the presidential election of 18 December 1997, Kim Dae Jung won 40.3 percent and Yi Hoe Chang of the Grand National Party (GNP) won 38.7 percent. In January 2000, Kim reorganized his cabinet; his party, the National Congress for New Politics, assumed a new name, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP).

“The 13 April 2000 election involved Kim Dae Jung's MDP, which captured 115 seats; the former governing party, Grand National Party (formerly the New Korea Party), obtained 133 seats; and a minor party, the United Democratic Liberal Party captured 17 seats. Two seats were held by the Democratic People's Party, one seat was held by the New Korea Party of Hope, and five seats went to independents. The 15 April 2004 election showed a surprise outcome of the Uri Dang party, a liberal party, overtaking the Grand National Party with 152 seats; the Grand National Party retained 121 seats and the MDP came in fourth place with only 9 seats.

Name Changes and Short-Lived Political Parties in South Korea

Jorein Versteege wrote: “Democratic Republican Party, Democratic Justice Party, Democratic Liberal Party, New Korea Party, Grand National Party and New Frontier Party. Sounds like many political parties, but all these South Korean party names serve only one party, the right-wing conservative party. In fact the Democratic Republican Party became the Democratic Justice Party in 1980 and then other names followed. In 1997, the conservatives called themselves Grand National Party and since 2012, they call themselves the New Frontier Party. [Source: Jorein Versteege, Revolutionary Socialist January 24, 2016]

The Peace Democratic Party was among the first liberal parties, tolerated by the conservative leaders of South Korea.” It “fused with other democratic minded liberals into the Democratic Party in 1991. In the mid 1990’s, the name of the party was changed to National Congress for New Politics! Meanwhile the conservatives also changed their name (again). The Democratic Liberal Party became the New Korea Party (NKP) in 1995 after another name change. The NKP only lived for two years, until the conservatives finally decided on a name they would keep for 15 years. In 1997, the Grand National Party (GNP) was created. This conservative party embraced neoconservatism, right-wing Korean nationalism and deep hostility towards leftism. Its ideology did not differ much from the early DRP/DJP/DLP/NKP formations!

On the liberal front, the National Congress for New Politics changed its name to Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) on 20 January 2000. After losing the elections to the Yeollin Uri Party in 2004, the MDP decided to fuse with them to form the United New Democratic Party in 2007. The name was changed again to Democratic Party (DP), a year later in 2008. But the new name did not last long. In 2011, the DP fused into the Democratic United Party which became the Democratic Party again in 2013, only to become the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in 2014 and then the Together Democratic Party on 28 december 2015!

Why Political Parties in South Korea Change Their Names So Often

Many political parties split and then fuse again. This is very common when a high profile politicians leaves his party and wins an election. After some years the old feuds are put aside and the politician and his follows fuse with their old mother party again under a new name. The Grand National Party of the conservatives, won the 2008 and 2012 elections. They were led by Park Geun-hye, the daughter of dictator Park Chung-hee since 2011. [Source: Jorein Versteege, Revolutionary Socialist January 24, 2016]

Political parties regularly change names, split and merge. Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation wrote: “South Korean political parties have an average life expectancy of only three years and generally are regionally based coalitions formed around a charismatic leader. As such, they lack distinctive party platforms and frequently dissolve to form new ones, often with little change from their predecessors. Lawmakers commonly switch party allegiances to improve their re-election potential. [Source: Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation, September 12, 2007]

“Reflecting the Korean adage of "same bed, different dreams," ideological foes have formed short-term alliances to win presidential elections. In 1997, liberal Kim Dae-jung teamed with long-time conservative foe Kim Jong-pil of the United Liberal Democrats to win the election. Kim Dae-jung made a pact that, if elected, he would cede considerable power to Kim Jong-pil as prime minister, but he later reneged on the promise, and Kim Jong-pil broke with him in 2000.

Democratic Justice Party (DJP) and Political Parties Under Roh Tae Woo

Unlike the two former military leaders who had preceded him, Roh Tae Woo followed an indirect course to the chairmanship of the Democratic Justice Party (DJP) and the presidency. A Korean Military Academy classmate of Chun Doo Hwan and Chong Ho-yong and a 1959 graduate of the United States Army Special Warfare School, Roh had passed through a succession of career-building military commands, including a brigade of the Special Warfare Command, before moving a regiment of his frontline Ninth Division into Seoul to support Chun's forcible removal of the army chief of staff and other senior military leaders on December 12, 1979. As Chun consolidated his political position through the spring and summer of 1980, he placed Roh in the most politically sensitive military posts: commander of the Capital Garrison Command and, later, the Defense Security Command. After Chun became president in 1980, however, he retired Roh from the military and used him to fill a series of government posts, beginning as the second minister of political affairs, a position that was apparently created especially for Roh. After a short period as minister of sports in the spring of 1982, Roh served for fifteen months as the minister of home affairs. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

In retrospect it seems clear that Roh's ability simultaneously to benefit by, yet distance himself politically from, his association with Chun began in mid-1983 when he was moved from the post of minister of home affairs to take the chairmanship of South Korea's Olympic Committee, which he held through 1986. With the Olympic Committee portfolio, Roh was able to avoid entanglement in increasingly tough police handling of the student movement while remaining in the public eye as the person who had successfully managed the campaign to have Seoul selected as the site of the 1988 Games of the XXIV Olympiad. After his election to the National Assembly in April 1985, Roh emerged as a significant figure in the DJP when Chun appointed him to the party presidency.*

At the end of the first two years of the Roh presidency, the DJP was a different party from that bequeathed by Chun in 1981. Roh had surprised political observers when he dismissed one-third of the party's local chapter chairmen and denied the party's nomination in the April 1988 National Assembly election to 126 incumbent party members in favor of relatively unknown and new party members. These decisions undoubtedly cost the party heavily in the number of seats won, but they also enabled Roh to begin to reshape the party in his own image. By December 1988, Roh was ready to consolidate his control of the DJP. Within four days, Roh replaced twenty of twenty-three cabinet ministers, eliminating virtually all those carried over from the Chun administration. He also reshuffled the senior DJP leadership, removing Park Chun-kyu, a former adviser to Park Chung Hee's Democratic Republican Party, from the chairmanship.*

Composition of the Roh Tae Woo’s DJP Party

The numerically dominant membership, or mainstream, of the DJP was made up of figures from the city of Taegu and North Kyongsang Province, a group sometimes characterized by the press as the TK Mafia, or TK Division (TK for Taegu and Kyongsang). This trend had become evident during the Fifth Republic under Chun and within the Democratic Republican Party under Park Chung Hee before him. Roh also attempted, however, to replace Chun loyalists within the party with individuals who were more likely to owe him their primary loyalty. Roh supporters included some members of an influential subset of the TK group made up of individuals who had graduated from Kyongbuk High School, Roh's alma mater. In December 1988, for example, all of the president's senior staff were Roh's fellow high-school alumni. Taegu- Kyongsang ties also extended to numerous civil and military posts, most notably all army chiefs of staff after 1980, one- quarter of director-level officers in the Korean National Police, and 120 of 662 prosecutors in 1989. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

A second group that supported the president comprised a number of older politicians whom the Seoul press termed the New Elders Group. Members of this group fled from North Korea in the 1940s or during the Korean War, held senior positions in various walks of life, especially journalism, and played an important role in rallying the votes of other former North Koreans in Kyonggi and Kangwon provinces in the 1987 presidential election. For this service, they were allowed to return to political life, in many cases for the first time since persons of North Korean origin lost political influence following the fall of Syngman Rhee in 1960 and the 1961 coup d'état of Park Chung Hee. As a group, they were strongly anticommunist and favored the restoration of "law and order" in the face of rising dissent in South Korean society.*

Political alignments within the ruling party tended to form around personalities rather than ideas, because of the importance of personal networks in South Korean society and the fact that under the Constitution Roh could not succeed himself. In August 1989, President Roh removed Yi Chong-ch'an from a senior party post. Yi, the leader of a group of DJP members hailing from the Seoul area, was known to favor greater democracy within the party and to oppose revision of the Constitution to create a cabinet- responsible system. After the announcement in early 1990 that the parties of Kim Young Sam and Kim Chong-p'il would merge with that of Roh Tae Woo, observers expected the roles both of ideas and of personal alignments or factions to be even more significant in the new, enlarged Democratic Liberal Party.*

Kim Chong-p'il and the New Democratic Republican Party (NDRP)

▪New Democratic Republican Party (NDRP) leader Kim Chong-p'il had been nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republican Party following Park's assassination in late 1979, but Kim was arrested by Chun on corruption charges during the latter's takeover in 1980. Kim was accused of corruption and stripped of most of his personal assets in South Korea. He spent six years in the United States. In March 1986, he returned to South Korea to attempt to reconstruct Park's old party and restore his own political fortunes. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

In a series of speeches in 1986 and 1987, Kim spoke of the need to continue the "revitalizing" tasks of the yusin phase of Park Chung Hee. His appeal initially was to former officials, cashiered military leaders, and others who had lost their positions in 1980. As Kim's message changed to emphasize his association with the beginnings of South Korea's modern economic development in the 1960s, he began to attract some younger, conservative South Koreans, and many from his native Ch'ungch'ong Province. By October 30, 1987, when Kim's NDRP was formally established, people under the age of forty made up more than half of the party's 3,000 charter members. Others included the twenty-one National Assembly members of the now defunct Korea Nationalist Party, which during the 1980s had provided a home for political survivors of Park Chung Hee's party.*

Kim Young Sam and the New Democratic Party (NDP)

Kim Young Sam was a veteran politician with a strong constituency in Pusan and in South Kyongsang Province. As a National Assembly member for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 1960s, he fought a series of losing battles against Park Chung Hee on such issues as normalization of relations with Japan in 1965. By 1970 he had risen to the top policy-making committee of the NDP. He lost the party's nomination to political rival Kim Dae Jung in the presidential election of 1971, but continued to hold top party posts through 1979, when the government-dominated National Assembly expelled him after he called for the resignation of Park and the abandonment of the yusin system. This incident contributed to large-scale unrest in Pusan and nearby Masan and may have indirectly contributed to Park's assassination.*

Kim Young Sam, like other well-known political figures, such as Kim Chong-p'il and Kim Dae Jung, was banned from politics in 1980 by Chun Doo Hwan; he spent the early 1980s under house arrest. A Presbyterian elder, Kim used the enforced leisure in well-publicized self-improvement along traditional cultural lines common to exiled South Korean politicians--seen in photo opportunities from time to time while practicing calligraphy in his book-lined study, or while on permitted outings with his Democratic Alpine Club. Government censorship prevented detailed press coverage of his twenty-three-day hunger strike against the Chun government in May and June 1983. Although Kim's house arrest was lifted after the hunger strike, his political rights were not restored until after the February 1985 National Assembly elections. Kim subsequently joined his faction members in the newly formed New Korea Democratic Party as an official party adviser, while his long-time rival, Kim Dae Jung, directed his own faction in the party from outside it as a member of the Council for Promotion of Democracy.*

In the late 1980s, South Korean political observers, increasingly interested in the question of leadership succession within the opposition parties, focused their attention more on generational groupings than on factions. Seen this way, the RDP was broadly divided into old-line Kim Young Sam loyalists and some additional experienced opposition politicians in their fifties and an emergent group of younger politicians, mostly in their forties. Many of the latter group began their first terms in the National Assembly in 1988. They typically brought to their political careers progressive political credentials earned in human rights law, labor relations, or other fields. Several members of this group received nationwide attention for their cogent interrogation techniques during the National Assembly hearings in late 1988.*

Kim Dae Jung

At the time of the presidential elections in December 1987, sixty-two-year-old opposition leader Kim Dae Jung from the Cholla region was in many ways the South Korean political candidate best known outside of South Korea. The one-time newspaper publisher, a Roman Catholic of eclectic views, and a charismatic popular speaker elected to the National Assembly four times in the 1960s, Kim had an international reputation that was largely due to the continuous efforts of the South Korean government to keep him out of the country, in prison, or under house arrest following his near-victory over Park in the 1971 presidential election. He had built active support organizations among South Koreans in Japan and the United States when the Korean Central Intelligence Agency kidnapped him at a Tokyo hotel in 1973. Following United States intervention to save his life during the abduction, he was brought back to South Korea to stand trial for alleged violation of the election law and Park's Emergency Measure Number Nine. He served several years of imprisonment and house arrest, then was released and had his civil rights restored in 1980 on the heels of the October 1979 assassination of Park.*

Again arrested under martial law in May 1980, Kim Dae Jung was accused of fomenting the Kwangju incident and sentenced to death by a military court on sedition charges that the United States Department of State described at the time as "far-fetched". Under pressure from the United States government, his death sentence was subsequently reduced to life and then to twenty years' imprisonment. This term was suspended in late 1982 when Kim went to the United States to seek medical treatment. In the United States, Kim divided his time among a research appointment at Harvard University, the Korean Institute for Human Rights in Alexandria, Virginia (informally known as the Kim Dae Jung Embassy), and wide-ranging travels to speak before Korean-American groups and United States civic, academic, and human rights organizations. Kim returned to South Korea in February 1985 on the eve of the National Assembly elections. In March 1985, he was released from the 1980 general ban on political activity, although the suspended criminal charges still in effect meant that he could neither belong to a party nor run for office. He immediately joined with Kim Young Sam, who had also had his ban lifted, to establish the Council for Promotion of Democracy. Although Kim Dae Jung spent most of the next two years under house arrest, he telephonically provided informal guidance to his faction within the New Korea Democratic Party and, after April 1985, within the Reunification Democratic Party (RDP). As part of the political understanding reached in late June 1987, the government dropped all outstanding charges against him and he reemerged to participate fully in politics.

Kim Dae Jung and Party for Peace and Democracy (PPD)

After negotiations with the Kim Young Sam faction of the RDP failed to reach agreement concerning a unified candidacy, the Kim Dae Jung faction and its supporters left in October 1987 to form the Party for Peace and Democracy (PPD). The December 16 election was fast approaching when Kim received his party's presidential nomination on November 12.*

As the 1990s began, the PPD was made up of at least three discernible groups. The first group comprised old-line Kim Dae Jung followers who occupied the senior positions in the party hierarchy holding unquestioning loyalty to the party leader. A second group, making up more than one-half of the party's seventy-one National Assembly seats after the April 1988 election, consisted of first-termers obliged by custom to play a low-key role in party affairs until acquiring more political experience. Within this group, however, was a subgroup of activists with long experience in cause-oriented groups and human rights law. Many of these activists had worked for the party in the National Assembly elections in 1985; a few had run as independents in 1988 before formally joining the party. Many of this group, organized as the Study Group for Peaceful and Democratic Reunification (P'yongminyon) within the party, participated conspicuously in National Assembly hearings in 1988. Collectively, they constituted the party's left wing and its link with the broader dissident movement outside of the National Assembly. Political speculation in late 1989 centered on whether this group would continue to exert a leftward pull, seeking to bring the position of the PPD closer to that of South Korea's emergent left. Observers noted that several PPD members of this group also were members of the Coalition for a National Democratic Movement (Chomminyon) formed in January 1989 and were likely to be involved with that organization's plans to form a progressive political party to participate in the first local council elections scheduled to take place in 1990.*

Chonminyon was one of a variety of groups that considered plans to form cause-oriented political parties in anticipation of local council elections. These bodies included a group of some fifty former cabinet members and retired generals who believed that the government party was not conservative enough and at least two groups of environmentalists who planned to establish parties dedicated to that issue. A proposed Green Party, like its European counterparts, planned to emphasize antiwar and antinuclear issues as well as the cause of the environment, but also supported a concept of "Oriental humanity" that would promote respect for the elderly and other traditional virtues.*

Uri Party

The Yeollin Uri Party, generally abbreviated to Uri Party ("Our Party"), was the briefly ruling political party in South Korea (2003–2007) with a liberal political ideology, in order to support then President Roh Moo-hyun. Chung Sye Kyun was the last leader of the party and twice served as its chairman. [Source: Wikipedia]

When the part was in its dying throes Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation wrote: “The progressive camp is in disarray and is desperately seeking a white knight to lead them to victory over the GNP in the presidential election. The progressive movement is riven by factionalism, as shown by the implosion and eventual disbandment of the ruling Uri Party after only three years and nine months. The party, born in 2003 as a result of a mass defection from its parent Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), was a tenuous confederation of progressives advocating extensive societal reform and pragmatists promoting more mainstream liberal policies. [Source: Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation, September 12, 2007]

“The Uri Party suffered humiliating defeats in four consecutive by-elections, failing to win any of the 43 contested seats in the National Assembly and winning only one of 16 major constituencies during local elections in May 2006. Even more troubling, the Uri Party lost support among young voters, a key constituency and previously its staunchest supporters.

“The Uri Party attempted to regain some public support by distancing itself from the unpopular President Roh, strongly opposing his more controversial policies, and eventually formally breaking with the president. This heightened intra-party strains and superimposed a new pro-Roh vs. anti-Roh division atop the pre-existing progressive vs. pragmatist split. The Uri Party has had 14 party chiefs during its short existence, reflecting this continual battle.

Uri Defectors

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation wrote: “The anti-Roh faction failed to comprehend that the electorate also blamed the Uri Party for not making progress on domestic issues and had signaled a rejection of progressive themes. The pro-Roh legislators' insistence on maintaining the party's course even as it headed toward the rocks led to a trickle of defections that became a flood. The progressive movement splintered into three opposing camps: the residual Uri Party; the Moderate Unified Democratic (MUD) Party (also identified as Centrist United Democratic Party), consisting of the first mass Uri defectors who combined with the Democratic Party (DP); and the United New Democratic Party (UNDP), a second group of Uri defectors, which gained defectors from the newly formed MUD party. [Source: Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation, September 12, 2007]

“The Uri Party disbanded on August 18 and merged into the UNDP, which consisted almost entirely of Uri defectors. Uri leader Chung Sye-kyun apologized to the electorate for the party's arrogant failure to read the will of the people and inability to implement promised reforms. The UNDP will combine its 85 National Assembly lawmakers with the Uri Party's 58 to create the largest party in the legislature, with 143.

“However, serious questions remain as to whether or not the electorate will accept the "new" party given that all but five of the 143 lawmakers are from the failed Uri Party. The progressives must still create a single grand alliance and unite behind one of the many progressive candidates to have any hope of defeating the GNP in the December presidential election. A single united progressive candidate and political party could be a formidable challenge to the GNP candidate by providing a rallying point for the 30 percent of the electorate that is progressive.

“However, achievement of this objective still faces significant hurdles. The Democratic Party, successor to the MDP, from which Roh defected, refuses to align with the UNDP until pro-Roh leaders are purged. A DP spokesperson denounced the UNDP as a "deception of the people [to create] a defacto Uri Party."

“On July 17, representatives of the leading six progressive candidates agreed to select a single candidate during a one-month primary beginning September 15. However, the candidates' representatives were unable to agree on the details. Former Gyeonggi Governor Sohn Hak-kyu, an independent who left the GNP, favored an open primary allowing for full participation by non-Uri Party members. Uri Party stalwarts, like former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, wanted a closed primary with voting by an electoral college of Uri Party members. The Uri Party's dissolution has created additional uncertainties over the choice of membership and selection of leadership positions.

“The progressive factions have few ideological differences among themselves, other than how far they want to distance themselves from President Roh, but they also have not shown any sense of shared philosophy or objective aside from winning the presidential election. Furthermore, in forming a merger, disagreements would inevitably arise over a unified party platform, notably the degree to which the new party should maintain Roh's and the Uri Party's progressive policies or adopt a centrist pragmatic theme. No alternative to Roh's policies has yet been developed, raising the question of whether the successor to the Uri Party will simply be an instance of putting old wine into new bottles. Finally, no candidate has yet caught fire sufficiently to enable a party to form around him.

Grand National Party (GNP)

The Grand National Party (GNP) — later called the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) was a conservative political party in South Korea that was described as right-wing populist and far-right. Until February 2017, it was known as the Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party), and before that as the Hannara Party (Grand National Party, or GNP) from 1997 to 2012, both of which are still colloquially used to refer to the party. The party formerly held a plurality of seats in the 20th Assembly before its ruling status was transferred to the Democratic Party of Korea in December 2016, following the creation of the splinter Bareun Party by former Saenuri members who distanced themselves from President Park Geun-hye in the 2016 South Korean political scandal.

Jorein Versteege wrote: “Democratic Republican Party, Democratic Justice Party, Democratic Liberal Party, New Korea Party, Grand National Party and New Frontier Party. Sounds like many political parties, but all these South Korean party names serve only one party, the right-wing conservative party. In fact the Democratic Republican Party became the Democratic Justice Party in 1980 and then other names followed. In 1997, the conservatives called themselves Grand National Party and since 2012, they call themselves the New Frontier Party. [Source: Jorein Versteege, Revolutionary Socialist January 24, 2016]

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation wrote: “South Korean polls consistently show overwhelming support for the GNP over any progressive alternative. Moreover, the GNP has handily defeated the Uri Party in local and by-elections in recent years. Despite these trends, the GNP remains nervous that it could still lose the election. During the 2002 presidential campaign, the GNP had a strong 52 percent to 29 percent lead over the Millennium Democratic Party but still lost the election. [Source: Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation, September 12, 2007]

“Despite the Roh administration's failures and current polls, a GNP victory in the election is not assured, and it is premature to rule out a surprise comeback by the progressive parties. The GNP's strong electoral showings reflected a rebuff to President Roh rather than an embrace of conservatism or a permanent shift toward the GNP. Although younger, progressive voters-the mainstay of the Uri Party-tend to eschew local elections, they vote in higher numbers during presidential elections. During the 2005 by-elections, only 21 percent of people in their 20s voted, compared to 61 percent of those in their 60s. Furthermore, in the local elections, the anti-conservative vote was split among several progressive parties, while in the presidential race, these factions may unite behind a single candidate, either in a coalition or single party.

“To ensure a presidential victory, the GNP must define what it stands for as opposed to merely being against President Roh and his policies. The GNP must explain how its conservative ideals would benefit the South Korean populace and articulate its strategies for ensuring economic growth, attracting foreign and domestic investment, resolving labor disputes, and expanding the social safety net. Moreover, the bruising battle and intense mudslinging between GNP candidates Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye risk alienating voters already weary of scandals and negative campaigning.

“The April 2007 by-election sent a chill through the GNP. Overall, the results were not necessarily bad, but they were significantly weaker than its near sweeps in previous local and by-elections. The GNP won 22 of 56 overall seats, the ruling Uri Party gained one, and other opposition parties won 10. However, independent candidates won 23 seats, reflecting either the voters' rejection of or at least their complacency toward all organized parties and mirroring the large percentage of undecided voters that are making the presidential election particularly volatile. Post-election polls indicated that the GNP's weak showing was the result of corruption scandals (27 percent) and the infighting between Lee and Park (24.7 percent).

“The GNP's greatest weaknesses are additional undisclosed scandals (referred to as a candidate's "X-file"); perceptions that the GNP represents outdated Cold War policies; and the legacy of conservative authoritarian rule, most notably under President Park Chung-hee, the father of former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye.

“The GNP will attempt to broaden its appeal by gaining support from the New Right, a nascent but growing political movement that originated as an amorphous coalition of academics, religious leaders, and civic groups that espouse "rational conservatism." This group rejects both the liberalism of the Roh administration and the traditional conservative camp, which is inexorably linked in the public's mind to the corrupt practices of South Korea's authoritarian regimes.

“Although members of this group are predominantly in their 30s and 40s, they reject the progressive philosophy of the "386 generation," which is the predominant political force in South Korea. In many ways, however, the New Right is less a case of what it stands for than of what it stands against: Roh and his attempt to transform South Korea into an egalitarian society.

Ruling Party Splits and Changes Its Name in 2016-2017

In 2012, the Grand National Party changed its name to "Saenori" or "New World" Party. The BBC reported: “It says the name change is meant to reflect a new Korea in which people can overcome differences and unite. The move is being seen as one of several attempts by political parties in South Korea to combat voter alienation ahead of elections in April. The change reflects just how difficult the ruling party is finding it to win voters' support. [Source: BBC, February 2, 2012]

“Talk of reform and rebirth by politicians from both sides is becoming more common here as polls suggest voters are drifting away from the big main parties towards independent candidates. Seoul's mayoral election in 2011 brought to power a political novice with a history of social activism. Since then, the main opposition Democratic Party has merged with one of its smaller rivals to become the Democratic United Party. And both ruling and opposition politicians have been working to stress their grassroots credentials - by using social media and opening up internal party issues to the public.

The Saenuri, or New Frontier, party — known as the Grand National Party until 2012 — changed its name in 2017 to Liberal Korea as it sought to distance itself from Park Geun-hye and the corruption scandal that forced her out of the presidency and into jail. AFP reported: “South Korean political parties have a tendency to don new names to sever ties with a tainted past or to appeal to larger audiences. Park adopted the Saenuri name in 2012 as part of an attempt to reform and regain voter support ahead of that year's general elections, which the party won. But a swirling corruption scandal has since surrounded Park, with huge demonstrations demanding her resignation, and she was impeached by parliament. The party initially favoured "Conservatives' Power Party" for a new title, as recommended by its acting leader In Myung-Jin. But the moniker met with public ridicule in the light of the scandal, one online poster commenting: "You'd better call it Money Power Party." Other alternatives were Happy Korea and the People First Party, potentially evoking US President Donald Trump's "America First" slogan. Saenuri's parliamentary floor leader Chung Woo-Taek said there had been disputes over using the word "conservative". "But as everyone knows we are conservative, we decided not to put the word in the party name," he said. [Source: AFP, February 9, 2017]

Before that, in December 2016, the Saenuri Party (Grand National Party, GNP, Liberal Party) split. Associated Press reported: “Dozens of lawmakers split from the conservative ruling party and likely will try to create a party fielding outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as its presidential candidate. Choung Byoung-gug, one of the 29- lawmakers who left the Saenuri Party accused President Park Geun-hye’s loyalists in the party’s leadership of “neglecting the values of real conservatism” and “shamelessly defending the historically worst infringement of constitutional values.” More Saenuri lawmakers may leave the party in the coming weeks. The split came as investigators widened their inquiry into the scandal surrounding Park, who has been accused of allowing a longtime confidante of manipulating government affairs and colluding with the friend to extort money and favors from the country’s biggest companies. The investigators summoned a former presidential aide as well as the former health minister over the decision to support the merger of two Samsung affiliates. [Source: Kim Tong-hyung, Associated Press, December 27, 2016]

Interest Groups in South Korea

Despite its Constitution and formal structure, the South Korean government has never fully conformed to the liberal democratic model that sees the state as a simple summation of diverse and competing interests within society. In politics, as in economic life, South Korea has more closely fit the "strong state" model, in which the government has tended to outweigh particular social or group interests. Nonetheless, the balance between the government and various interest groups showed some dramatic changes in the late 1980s; as the 1990s began, observers found it likely that such changes would continue, despite efforts by the government to retain its traditionally strong position. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

In general, the higher-paid professions establish and administer their own associations and cooperate closely with the appropriate government ministries, but receive no government support. These associations are chiefly concerned with maintaining standards and the economic status of the professions concerned and have been traditionally regarded by the government as politically safe. The major exception has been the Korean Bar Association, which became increasingly outspoken on human rights and related legal issues in the 1970s and 1980s.*

The government has attempted to keep tight controls on the intellectual professions, sponsoring the formation of the Korean Federation of Education Associations and the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea. Membership in the Korean Federation of Education Associations was compulsory for all teachers through high-school level. Members of these umbrella groups received significant medical benefits, and they tended to avoid political controversy. The Korean Newspaper Association and Korean Newspaper Editors' Association were politically cautious during the early 1980s, but became much less constrained during the early years of Roh's rule.*

Dissident associations have frequently grown from the intellectual sector of society. The Minjung Culture Movement Association (minjung means populist) was formed in 1985 by dissident artists and writers who did not want to belong to the state-controlled Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea. Similar organizations of dissident journalists, such as the Association of Journalists Dismissed in 1980, or the Democratic Press Movement Association, often were dealt with harshly under the Fifth Republic. The Association of Korean Journalists, although more broadly based and less ideological, was quick to resist censorship and, after a change in the law in 1988, supported the formation of journalists' unions.*

Business Groups and Politics in South Korea

During most of the postwar period, the South Korean government had encouraged organizations for the communication of economic interests, but had not encouraged professional or occupational interest groups to voice political demands. Independent or unsanctioned interest groups had come into existence from time to time to challenge fundamental policies of the government. In the late 1980s, such challenges accounted for a sizable proportion of extragovernmental political activity. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

The relationship between government and business associations in South Korea had its roots in the period of Japanese colonial rule, when the governor general established the Seoul Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other industrial associations as a means of communicating economic policies to the business community. Since 1952 all businesses were required by South Korean law to belong to the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the bylaws and initial membership of which closely paralled those of the Seoul Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the colonial period. Since 1961, when the Park government began its economic development plans, the Federation of Korean Industry has represented the major conglomerates. A larger organization, the Federation of Small and Medium Industries, has had much less influence. The Korea Traders' Association and the Korean Federation of Textile Industries round out the four major industrial associations. In 1989 there were some 200 additional business associations licensed by the state.*

In most cases, the government recognizes only a single association as the representative of that industry. Major business leaders may have individual access to administrators through personal ties and might be able to influence the government in minor ways, such as obtaining exemptions from specific taxes. For the most part, however, business associations through the 1980s were dominated by the government. As noted by one specialist, "it is through industry associations that the Korean government implements its policies, enforces routine compliance, gathers information, and monitors performance." In the 1980s, this process was sometimes facilitated by the placement of retiring senior military or national security officials in industry association positions.*

Institutional changes and pressures toward open markets began to change the traditional government-business relationship in the mid- and late 1980s. Larger corporations became interested in having a role in policy formulation more commensurate with their contribution to more than two decades of economic growth. This interest took several forms, including substantial corporate contributions to all major political parties during elections. As economic ministries grew in influence within a more decentralized economic planning structure in the 1980s, the related industry associations, just as in Japan and the United States, gained a greater voice. Growing liberalization of the domestic market under foreign pressure also led to greater friction between the interests of specific economic sectors and the need of the government to satisfy its foreign critics or risk a loss of access to vital foreign markets. As the 1990s began, these frictions seemed likely to continue and to lead eventually to further readjustments.*

Labor Groups and Politics in South Korea

The modern Korean labor movement, including unions of skilled and unskilled workers, dates to the first decade of Japanese colonial rule. South Korean law and constitutions since 1948 have recognized the "three rights" of labor: the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to take collective action. In practice, however, the government has consistently attempted to control labor and mitigate the effects of unionism through the use of a variety of legal and customary devices, including company-supported unions, prohibitions against political activities by unions, binding arbitration of disputes in public interest industries, which include 70 percent of all organized labor, and the requirement that all unions be affiliated with one of the seventeen government-sponsored industrial unions and with a general coordinating body, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). In the 1980s, large companies, often supported by the police and intelligence agencies of the government, also exerted pressure on unions to prevent strikes, to undermine the development of white-collar unions, to retain control of union leaders, and to prevent persons with some college education from attempting to organize workers by taking positions as industrial laborers. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Despite such measures, the government has never exercised total control of the labor movement. Even the Federation of Korean Trade Unions occasionally has been able to file administrative suits against government rulings or to lobby-- sometimes successfully--against laws that would have a negative impact on working conditions or rights of unions. Through most of its existence, however, the federation has been able to do little beyond submit proposals for legal reform to the government. Throughout the postwar period, dissenting labor organizations have either attempted to function apart from the government- sanctioned structure under the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, or have formed rival umbrella organizations, such as the National Council of Trade Unions, established in 1958.*

South Korea experienced an explosion of labor disputes from 1987 through 1989 under the more open political conditions following the crisis of late June 1987 and the pressures created by long-deferred improvements in wages and working conditions. More than 3,500 labor disputes occurred from August through November 1987. Most were quickly resolved by negotiated wage increases and by the prospect that another common demand--freer scope for union activities--would be met in forthcoming legislation. In 1988 labor-related laws were amended to make it easier to establish labor unions and to reduce government intervention in labor disputes. Unions were still prohibited, however, from articulating any demands that the government interpreted as political in nature.*

In 1988 the number of unions increased from 4,000 to more than 5,700. This figure included numerous new white-collar unions formed at research institutes, in the media, and within the larger corporations.*

There was a general privatization of labor-management conflict during 1988 and 1989 as the government adopted a more neutral, hands-off stance. Companies experimented widely with tactics such as lockouts (5 in 1987; 224 in 1988), and labor unions achieved new levels of joint action by workers in different regions and industries. The government's ability to manage organized labor through the traditional means of controlling the FKTU declined. The FKTU, under criticism for the many years it represented the government more than labor, also began to take a more independent posture as the 1980s came to a close. In 1989 the once-docile umbrella organization prepared to sponsor union candidates in anticipated local elections (an illegal activity under existing law) and held education seminars and rallies to press for "economic democracy" through revision of labor laws and other reforms. Notwithstanding the increasing ability of labor to organize and to present economic demands, however, the government continued to suppress leftist labor groups that appeared to have broad political goals or that questioned the legitimacy of the government, such as the National Council of Labor Unions (Chonnohyop), which was formally established in early 1990.*

In early 1990, the government announced new measures to support its return to more restrictive policies governing strikes. The number of intelligence agents at key industries was more than doubled (from 163 to 337) and a special riot police task force--sixty-three companies in strength--was deployed against "illegal" strikes.*

Farmers Groups and Politics in South Korea

During the postwar period, articulation of workers' interests had been weakest for South Korea's farming population. In 1946 the government used the Korea Federation of Peasants to mobilize the rural population against leftist peasant unions. The Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, established in 1957, was also largely funded and administered by the state. Its purpose was not to represent farmers' interests, but to facilitate government control over the purchase and sale of grain and farmers' purchases of fertilizer. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Although most South Korean farmers continued to belong to cooperatives, two pressures converged in the late 1980s to change the way in which farmers' interests were represented. First, as rural-urban income disparities grew in the late 1970s and 1980s, farmer dissatisfaction with the government cooperatives' role in setting crop prices and the costs of agricultural supplies also increased. Some farmers turned to independent organizations, such as the Korean Catholic Farmers Association or the Christian Farmers Association. These groups, which were viewed as dissident organizations by the government, performed a variety of services for farmers and also took public positions on government agricultural and price policies, sometimes using mass rallies. The second change, which affected larger numbers of farmers, was the result of South Korea's growing trade surpluses in the late 1980s. As the government responded to pressure from major trading partners, such as the United States, to open South Korea's domestic markets, farmers became increasingly active in large-scale protest rallies against both the government and the major political parties. As the 1990s began, it was clear that the traditional harmony of political interests between a conservative rural population and conservative governments had ended.*

Teacher Groups and Politics in South Korea

The government has been especially sensitive about unauthorized professional associations among teachers. Many teachers, and some opposition political leaders, have been determined to reduce the state's control over the political views of teachers and the content of education. In early 1989, President Roh vetoed an opposition-sponsored amendment to the Education Law that would have allowed teachers to form independent unions. In spite of the president's veto, activist leftist teachers--numbering about 10 percent of the nation's primary through high-school faculties--announced their intention to form such a union. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

The National Teachers Union (Chon'gyojo), inaugurated in late May 1989, criticized the Korean Federation of Education Associations as progovernment and weak in protecting teachers' rights. The Ministry of Education responded by dismissing more than 1,000 members of the new union in the spring and summer of 1989, resulting in the eventual withdrawal of more than 10,000 additional teachers. The Agency for National Security Planning conducted a well-publicized investigation into the union's ideology, with the implication that members could be charged with aiding an antistate organization under the National Security Act. Police broke up pro-National Teachers Union rallies; members participating in a signature-gathering campaign to support the union were charged with traffic violations. Eventually, several teachers' union leaders received prison terms on various charges. The Ministry of Education produced new guidelines that permitted teachers' colleges to deny admission to students with activist records and that allowed district education boards to screen out "security risks" when testing candidates for employment. These measures effectively halted the activities of the National Teachers Union.*

Political Extremism and Political Violence

The deliberate use of violence, including occasional assassination, to express or advance political goals was common among both the right and the left in South Korea after liberation in 1945 and up to the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Subsequent political violence up to the 1980s, apart from exchanges between police and participants in political demonstrations or rallies, was largely limited to the illegal government use of violence or the threat of violence to suppress dissent and intimidate political opponents. During the presidency of Syngman Rhee (1948-60), for example, the government mobilized the Anticommunist Youth League and members of street gangs to smash facilities of critical newspapers and intimidate opposition candidates for election. The Park government continued illegal police practices, including torture of some dissidents, intellectuals, and even members of the National Assembly, and was often indirectly involved in violence. The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) also used various means, including physical threats, to intimidate South Korean journalists in the United States. Such methods continued under Chun, occasionally resulting in the deaths of political defendants under police torture. Police were passively present while hired thugs broke up dissident religious services or union meetings. Under Roh Tae Woo, police handling of political suspects retained some of the illegal violence of earlier times, although improved media freedom also meant greater scrutiny of police misconduct. In contrast with earlier regimes, however, the Roh government permitted prosecution and conviction of police officers and even of military personnel in several cases involving violence during its first year in office. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990 *]

Under a special "afforestation program" administered by the Defense Security Command, more than 400 student activists were punitively induced into the army during the Chun years; according to a Ministry of National Defense report, at least 5 committed suicide or were killed, and many were forced to become informants. At least 50 people died (of some 10,000 incarcerated) in the government's "triple purity" (samch'ong) reeducation camps in the early 1980s. Ten years after the May 1980 Kwangju incident, many South Koreans continued to believe that the initial violence committed by armed Special Forces troops against civilian demonstrators on that occasion was deliberate. The former martial law commander for the region told a National Assembly committee in 1988 that civilian protests were not violent enough at the beginning to justify the use of elite forces and that army brutality aggravated the situation.*

Public violence against government institutions was rare from the 1950s through the early 1980s. When students overthrew the Syngman Rhee government in April 1960, mobs destroyed the headquarters of Rhee's Anticommunist Youth League. More spontaneous forms of violence often occurred during student protest rallies in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when small numbers of rock-throwing students at the edges of large rallies clashed with club-wielding riot police, or security forces dispatched martial arts experts and plainclothes officers to beat or arrest demonstrators. Students also occasionally beat up police informants or plainclothes officers. This pattern changed following the killings of students and other demonstrators in Kwangju in May 1980.*

The Kwangju incident permanently stained the legitimacy of the Chun government for subsequent generations of student activists, many of whom also blamed the United States for what they believed to be its supportive role. The use of Molotov cocktails by some elements among student demonstrators, both as a counter to increasingly effective police use of tear gas and as a reflection of increased militancy, became a feature of student demonstrations during the 1980s.*

Another threshold was crossed in March 1982, when several students deliberately set a fire in the American Cultural Center in Pusan, causing severe damage, and, inadvertently, the death of another South Korean student studying in the building at the time. In a related statement, the students said they were beginning an anti-United States struggle to eliminate United States power from South Korea. The students blamed the United States for causing "the permanent national division of Korea" and for "supporting the military regime that refuses democratization, social revolution, and development."

In April 1985, radical students, together with veteran activists released from prison the year before, formed the Struggle Committee for the Liberation of the Masses, the Attainment of Democracy, and the Unification of the Nation, or Sammint'u. The ideology of this organization borrowed from the dependency theory in blaming a "dependent industrialization process" dominated by the United States for South Korea's social and political problems. Sammint'u supported various forms of direct action, including infiltration of labor unions and forcible occupations of United States and South Korean government facilities. Sammint'u activists conducted a number of such actions, including a three-day seizure of the United States Information Service (USIS) building in Seoul in May 1985 and the occupation of two regional offices of the Ministry of Labor in November of the same year. Although Sammint'u was suppressed in 1986 under the National Security Act as an "antistate" organization, its emphasis on well-organized occupations and other actions (rather than the more spontaneous forms of traditional student protest) and its ability to mobilize students across campus lines marked a permanent change in student protest tactics.*

By the late 1980s, violence-prone student radicals, although a small minority even among politically active students, demonstrated increasing effectiveness in organizing occupations and arson assaults against facilities. In 1988, under the general guidance of the National Association of University Student Councils (Chondaehyop) or the Seoul Area Federation of Student Councils (Soch'ongnyon), small groups of students armed with Molotov cocktails, metal pipes, and occasionally tear gas grenades or improvised incendiary or explosive devices, staged more than two dozen raids on United States diplomatic and military facilities. Students also conducted a similar number of attacks against offices of the government and ruling party and the suburban Seoul residence of former President Chun.*

Anti-United States attacks in 1989 began in February with a seizure of the USIS library in Seoul and attempted arson at the American Cultural Center in Kwangju. Additional incidents continued through the year at about the same level as in 1988, culminating in the violent occupation of the United States ambassador's residence by six students in December. In the spring of 1989, there were numerous incidents of arson and vandalism against Hyundai automobile showrooms in many cities as Chondaehyop mobilized member organizations nationwide to support a strike by Hyundai shipyard workers. Other attacks occurred throughout the year against Democratic Justice Party (DJP) offices and South Korean government facilities.*

As the 1980s ended, however, violence-prone radical groups also suffered setbacks and found themselves under increased pressure from the courts, police, and public and student opinion. The deaths of seven police officers in a fire set by student demonstrators in Pusan in May 1989, the arrest of Chondaehyop leaders on National Security Act charges stemming from the unauthorized travel of a member of the organization to Pyongyang over the summer, and the beating to death of a student informer by activists at one university in Seoul in October contributed to this pressure. In student council elections throughout the country in late 1989, students at many campuses defeated student council officers associated with the Chondaehyop's "national liberation" strategy, often replacing them with other leaders who favored a "people's democracy" approach, emphasizing organizational work among farmers and the labor movement over violent assaults on symbolic targets, at least for the near term.*

Many South Korean commentators interpreted the outcome of the 1989 campus elections as a renunciation of violent methods or as a turn away from radical student activism. Other observers noted, however, the ideological and organizational complexity of "people's democracy" elements, some of which had in the past equaled or exceeded Chondaehyop's commitment to violent activism. As the 1990s began, it seemed likely that at least some radical elements, though perhaps increasingly driven underground like their counterparts in Japan, would remain committed to the use of violence as a political tool.*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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