Korean Politics for Dummies

Don’t you want to seem, and become more aware of what’s happening in our country?

As students of KIS, we tend to be less exposed to the news about Korean politics compared to students from other schools. For example, the recent congress election did not gather as much attention as the preliminary in the States. However, the recent election results were quite meaningful. The paradigm of Korean politics shifted from its ten year long pattern on the night of April 13th.

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Korean Congress Interior (Seongnam Newstoday)

In order to make this more familiar to the readers of KIS, here’s some quick background information, going all the way back to 1987, when the military government led by Chun Doo-hwan ended its seven year long ruling. Because of the government’s undemocratic nature, the overall public of South Korea was very much against the continuation of militaristic governing. This even escalated to mass protests in June, 1987.

1987 Protest (Huffington Post)

The dictator resigned. The 23 years of autocracy was over. Ironically however, the presidential election of 1987 ended with the victory of Roh Tae-woo, the political apprentice to Chun. In the next year, the congressional election only got the ruling party, Minjungdang, 125 seats out of 299; for the first time in Korean history, in which the ruling party was less powerful than the opposition in the house.

This was exciting at first. People expected more balanced politics from this composition. However, the leaders of two major opposition parties (Tong-il Minjoodang and Shin-minjoo Gonghwadang) accepted a merger offer from the ruling party. This led to a creation of a massive political party with 218 seats in the house; nothing was in their way now.

From the left, Kim Young-Sam, Roh Tae-Woo, Kim Jong-Pil (CDN)

Since then, Minjadang, the newly merged party, stood as Korea’s main conservative political party and consistently earned major supports from the voters. It remained as the biggest party in the house to this day, despite being the opposition party half the times.

Why is this important? Well, the congress is where laws are created and reformed. If one party is substantially greater than the rest, the voting procedure will allow more bills to be passed under their advantage.

Minjadang existed as the major ruling party until 1997 (under President Kim Young-Sam’s administration), but it lost the presidential election due to two factors: one, the previous president’s failure to prevent financial crisis and two, the candidates from the party ended up dividing the votes because one of them ran for president without accepting the party’s decision. From then on, Hannaradang (Minjadang switched its name) didn’t have a prosperous time for ten years, until their victory in  the17th presidential election followed by great results in the congress election. Like before in their heydays, Saenooridang (changed named again since 2012) exercised their power in the congress

This article attempts to be politically neutral. However, it is the general public’s opinion both left and right, that president Park’s administration displayed rather poor decision making skills and exhausted their supports with constant inner conflicts. Additionally, the arising controversy over a number of their policies caused disagreements amongst the voters, according to political analysts major foreign newspapers including the New York Times, BBC, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.  I personally recommend the readers to take additional time to gather more information on this topic. There were many factors that affected the people’s judgements prior to the general election.

President Park Geun-hye and her party had an internal conflict over reforming the legislative procedure (Tistory)


The Saenooridang’s leader Kim Moo Sung had an internal turmoil with the President (Shinmoongo)


[세월호 참사] 이 편지 볼 수 있겠지?
The tragedy of the Sewol Ferry incident of April 2014, and the government’s poor damage control were definitely relatable factors to this election (자유주의)

The result of the 20th general election (April 13th) was a complete defeat for Saenooridang. The conservative party only managed to sustain 121 seats in the house, making the opposition (the Minjoo Party) the new major political party by 1 more seat in the house. Where did the rest of the seats go?

The People’s Party – Ahn Cheol Soo (Joongang Daily)


Only a few months prior to the election, a new political party was created. The People’s party, led by Ahn Cheol Soo, known for his enterprise in computer security program, managed to get 38 seats in the house. No, this is not a big number. Yet, it was a great leap for a newly developed party like the People’s party.

The significance in this new composition is that for the first time in Korean politics, not one political party can assume the majority vote in the congress. Because at least two parties must agree on the issue before passing the bill, there should be more balance in the legislation process. At least for the next four years, people are expecting more democratic dynamics in Korean politics as public policies are less dependent on mere political inclination, but more based on public opinions.

That’ll be all for today. I hope KIS students pay more attention to Korean politics. It takes time to gain enough knowledge to have a justified stance, but it would be a required process for your votes in the 2017 presidential and 2020 general election.

– Paul Jeon (’17)

Featured Image: Washington Post

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