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Politics of the Republic of Korea

대한민국의 정치 (Korean)
Polity typeUnitary presidential
constitutional republic
ConstitutionConstitution of the Republic of Korea
Legislative branch
NameNational Assembly
TypeUnicameral
Meeting placeNational Assembly Building
Presiding officerKim Jin-pyo, Speaker of the National Assembly
Executive branch
Head of State and Government
TitlePresident
CurrentlyYoon Suk Yeol
AppointerDirect popular vote
Cabinet
NameState Council
LeaderPresident
Deputy leaderPrime Minister
AppointerPresident
HeadquartersYongsan, Seoul
Ministries18
Judicial branch
NameJudiciary of South Korea
Supreme Court
Chief judgeCho Hee-dae
Constitutional Court
Chief judgeLee Jongseok
Separation of powers and the election system of South Korea

The politics of South Korea take place in the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the president is the head of state, and of a multi-party system. To ensure a separation of powers, the Republic of Korea Government is made up of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The government exercises executive power and legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature and comprises a Supreme Court, appellate courts, and a Constitutional Court.

Since 1948, the constitution has undergone five major revisions, each signifying a new republic. The current Sixth Republic began with the last major constitutional revision that took effect in 1988. From its founding until the June Democratic Struggle, the South Korean political system operated under a military authoritarian regime, with the freedom of assembly, association, expression, press and religion as well as civil society activism being tightly restricted. During that period, there were no freely elected national leaders, political opposition is suppressed, dissent was not permitted and civil rights were curtailed.

The Economist Intelligence Unit rated South Korea a "full democracy" in 2022.[1] According to the V-Dem Democracy indices South Korea was 2023 the third most electoral democratic country in Asia.[2] South Korea is often cited as a model of democracy due to its relatively peaceful and internally-driven democratic transition.[3][4][5][6][7]

However, the mid-2000s to mid-2010s are often considered South Korea's backsliding period. Although, some have argued South Korea has hit a democratic ceiling and changes are more characteristic of democratic stagnation in lieu of regression. This took the form of more state involvement (particularly through the Korea Communications Commission or KCC) in media control and less editorial independence among journalists with conservative media owners.[8][9] Overall, political expression lagged behind comparable democracies.[10][11] Additionally, South Korea has very strict election and campaign finance regulations, that includes no door-to-door canvassing and, consequently, some have cited these regulations as barriers to political expression and free and fair elections.[12][13] These changes have largely attributed to South Korea's weak political party structure that emphasizes leaders and, consequently, hyper-presidentialism. Moreover, a right-left ideological divide has been more deeply entrenched into South Korean political society.[14][15][16]However, South Korea is considered to have a strong civil society or simin sahoe manifested through a large number of civic organization that prevented further backsliding via the 2016-2017 Candlelight Demonstrations.[17][14]

Under more recent administrations such as President Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea has taken a stance as a "Global Pivotal State," which involves a greater role in East Asia as a democratic power. Despite its own democratic struggles, South Korea has taken an active role on democracy on the global stage having hosted the 2024 Summit for Democracy and committing to "strengthen coordination on promoting democracy and protecting human rights" at the 2023 Camp David Summit with the U.S. and Japan, bolstering their trilateral relationship.[18]

National government

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Executive branch

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Main office-holders
Office Name Party Since
President Yoon Suk Yeol People Power Party 10 May 2022
Prime Minister Han Duck-soo Independent 22 May 2022

The head of state is the president, who is elected by direct popular vote for a single five-year[19] term. The president is Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and enjoys considerable executive powers.

The president appoints the prime minister with approval of the National Assembly, as well as appointing and presiding over the State Council of chief ministers as the head of government. On 12 March 2004, the executive power of then President Roh Moo-hyun was suspended when the Assembly voted to impeach him and Prime Minister Goh Kun became an Acting President. On 14 May 2004, the Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment decision made by the Assembly and Roh was reinstated.

On 10 May 2022, Yoon Suk Yeol succeeded Moon Jae-in as president of South Korea.[20]

Legislative branch

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National Assembly of South Korea in Seoul

The National Assembly (Korean국회; Hanja國會; RRgukhoe) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term, 253 members in single-seat constituencies and 47 members by proportional representation. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is the largest party in the Assembly.

Judicial branch

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The South Korean judiciary is independent of the other two branches of government, and is composed of two different highest courts. Inferior ordinary courts are under the Supreme Court, whose justices are appointed by the president of South Korea with the consent of the National Assembly. In addition, the Constitutional Court oversees questions of constitutionality, as single and the only court whose justices are appointed by the president of South Korea by equal portion of nomination from the president, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court Chief justice. South Korea has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.

Political parties and elections

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South Korea elects on national level a head of state – the president – and a legislature. The president is elected for a five-year term by the people. The National Assembly (Gukhoe) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term, 253 members in single-seat constituencies and 47 members by proportional representation.

The main two political parties in South Korea are the liberal Democratic Party of Korea (lit. "Together Democratic Party", DPK) and the conservative People Power Party (PPP), formerly the United Future Party (UFP). The liberal camp and the conservative camp are the dominant forces of South Korean politics at present.

Parties in the 22nd National Assembly
Group Floor leader Seats % of seats
Democratic Party Lee Jae-myung 176[a] 52.31%
People Power Yoon Jae-ok 108[b] 45.73%
Green-Justice Sim Sang-jung 6 1.8%
New Future Kim Jong-min 5 1.5%
New Reform Yang Hyang-ja 4 1.2%
Progressive Kang Sung-hee 1 0.3%
Rebuilding Korea Party Hwang Un-ha 1 0.3%
Liberal Unification Party Hwangbo Seung-hee 1 0.3%
Independents 9 3.0%
Vacant 3 0.9%
Total 300 100.0%

Notes:

  1. Negotiation groups can be formed by 20 or more members.
  1. ^ Including 14 seats held by the Democratic Alliance of Korea
  2. ^ Including 13 seats held by the People's Future Party


Political nature

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South Korea's political history has always been prone to splits from and merges with other parties. One reason is that there is a greater emphasis around the 'politics of the individual' rather than the party; therefore, party loyalty is not strong when disagreements occur. The graph below illustrates the extent of the political volatility within the last 10 years alone. These splits were intensified after the 2016 South Korean political scandal.

This graph traces the recent origins of all six main political parties currently in the Republic of Korea, all of which have either split from or merged with other parties in the last four years. They have emerged from four main ideological camps, from Left to Right: Progressive (socialist), liberal, centrist, and conservative.

Latest elections

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Presidential election

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CandidatePartyVotes%
Yoon Suk YeolPeople Power Party16,394,81548.56
Lee Jae-myungDemocratic Party of Korea16,147,73847.83
Sim Sang-jungJustice Party803,3582.38
Huh Kyung-youngNational Revolutionary Party281,4810.83
Kim Jae-yeonProgressive Party37,3660.11
Cho Won-jinOur Republican Party25,9720.08
Oh Jun-hoBasic Income Party18,1050.05
Kim Min-chanKorean Wave Alliance17,3050.05
Lee Gyeong-heeKorean Unification11,7080.03
Lee Baek-yunLabor Party9,1760.03
Kim Gyeong-jaeNew Liberal Democratic Union8,3170.02
Ok Un-hoSaenuri Party4,9700.01
Total33,760,311100.00
Valid votes33,760,31199.10
Invalid/blank votes307,5420.90
Total votes34,067,853100.00
Registered voters/turnout44,197,69277.08
Source: Election results

By region

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Major candidates

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Breakdown of votes by region for candidates with at least 1% of the total votes.

Region Yoon Suk Yeol Lee Jae-myung Sim Sang-jung
Votes % Votes % Votes %
Seoul 3,255,747 50.6 2,944,981 45.7 180,324 2.8
Busan 1,270,072 58.3 831,896 38.1 47,541 2.2
Daegu 1,199,888 75.1 345,045 21.6 31,131 1.9
Incheon 878,560 47.1 913,320 48.9 51,852 2.8
Gwangju 124,511 12.7 830,058 84.8 14,865 1.5
Daejeon 464,060 49.6 434,950 46.4 25,445 2.7
Ulsan 396,321 54.4 297,134 40.8 21,292 2.9
Sejong 101,491 44.1 119,349 51.9 6,780 2.9
Gyeonggi 3,965,341 45.6 4,428,151 50.9 205,709 2.4
Gangwon 544,980 54.2 419,644 41.7 25,031 2.5
North Chungcheong 511,921 50.7 455,853 45.1 26,557 2.6
South Chungcheong 670,283 51.1 589,991 45.0 31,789 2.4
North Jeolla 176,809 14.4 1,016,863 83.0 19,451 1.6
South Jeolla 145,549 11.4 1,094,872 86.1 16,279 1.3
North Gyeongsang 1,278,922 72.8 418,371 23.8 33,123 1.9
South Gyeongsang 1,237,346 58.2 794,130 37.4 52,591 2.5
Jeju 173,014 42.7 213,130 52.6 13,598 3.4
Total 16,394,815 48.6 16,147,738 47.8 803,358 2.4
Source: National Election Commission

Minor candidates

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Breakdown of votes by region for candidates with less than 1% of the total votes.

Region Huh
Kyung-young
Kim
Jae-yeon
Cho
Won-jin
Oh
Jun-ho
Kim
Min-chan
Lee
Gyeong-hee
Lee
Baek-yun
Kim
Gyeong-jae
Ok
Un-ho
Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes % Votes %
Seoul 36,540 0.6 5,615 0.1 4,657 0.1 3,829 0.1 1,907 0.0 1,333 0.0 1,571 0.0 1,791 0.0 844 0.0
Busan 21,990 1.0 2,799 0.1 1,867 0.1 1,071 0.0 942 0.0 575 0.0 546 0.0 527 0.0 352 0.0
Daegu 13,941 0.9 938 0.1 2,824 0.2 892 0.1 619 0.0 472 0.0 344 0.0 451 0.0 261 0.0
Incheon 16,733 0.9 1,593 0.1 1,378 0.1 1,116 0.1 758 0.0 511 0.0 508 0.0 449 0.0 276 0.0
Gwangju 6,138 0.6 1,366 0.1 112 0.0 434 0.0 455 0.0 188 0.0 242 0.0 140 0.0 92 0.0
Daejeon 8,593 0.9 958 0.1 588 0.1 566 0.1 395 0.0 258 0.0 223 0.0 227 0.0 138 0.0
Ulsan 9,234 1.3 2,180 0.3 685 0.1 375 0.1 333 0.0 234 0.0 308 0.0 185 0.0 109 0.0
Sejong 1,594 0.7 181 0.1 121 0.1 100 0.0 88 0.0 66 0.0 50 0.0 48 0.0 23 0.0
Gyeonggi 63,207 0.7 8,768 0.1 5,897 0.1 4,151 0.0 3,192 0.0 1,927 0.0 1,919 0.0 1,990 0.0 1,124 0.0
Gangwon 11,668 1.2 1,260 0.1 824 0.1 582 0.1 560 0.1 525 0.1 323 0.0 262 0.0 181 0.0
North Chungcheong 11,165 1.1 1,083 0.1 779 0.1 614 0.1 653 0.1 698 0.1 385 0.0 288 0.0 213 0.0
South Chungcheong 14,169 1.1 1,586 0.1 899 0.1 750 0.1 864 0.1 791 0.1 477 0.0 314 0.0 200 0.0
North Jeolla 7,975 0.7 896 0.1 299 0.0 542 0.0 1,464 0.1 409 0.0 377 0.0 199 0.0 135 0.0
South Jeolla 8,322 0.7 1,917 0.2 296 0.0 672 0.1 2,246 0.2 507 0.0 473 0.0 304 0.0 179 0.0
North Gyeongsang 18,028 1.0 1,763 0.1 2,431 0.1 964 0.1 1,046 0.1 1,607 0.1 535 0.0 550 0.0 356 0.0
South Gyeongsang 28,645 1.3 3,892 0.2 2,044 0.1 1,180 0.1 1,473 0.1 1,379 0.1 749 0.0 491 0.0 424 0.0
Jeju 3,539 0.9 571 0.1 271 0.1 267 0.1 310 0.1 228 0.1 146 0.0 101 0.0 63 0.0
Total 281.481 0.8 37,366 0.1 25,972 0.1 18,105 0.1 17,305 0.1 11,708 0.0 9,176 0.0 8,317 0.0 4,970 0.0
Source: National Election Commission


In March 2022, Yoon Suk-yeol, the candidate of the conservative opposition People Power Party, won a close election over Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung by the narrowest margin ever. On 10 May 2022, Yoon was sworn in as South Korea's new president.[21]

Legislative election

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Political pressure groups and leaders

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Administrative divisions

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One Special City (Teukbyeolsi, Capital City), six Metropolitan Cities (Gwangyeoksi, singular and plural), nine Provinces (Do, singular and plural) and one Special Autonomous City (Sejong City).

Foreign relations

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South Korea is a member of the

See also

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Notes

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References

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  1. ^ "Democracy Index 2022: Frontline democracy and the battle for Ukraine" (PDF). Economist Intelligence Unit. 2023. Retrieved 2023-02-09.
  2. ^ V-Dem Institute (2023). "The V-Dem Dataset". Archived from the original on 8 December 2022. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  3. ^ "How South Korea's Authoritarian Past Shapes Its Democracy". thediplomat.com. Retrieved 2024-05-01.
  4. ^ "An Unpromising Recovery: South Korea's Post-Korean War Economic Development: 1953-1961". Association for Asian Studies. Retrieved 2024-05-01.
  5. ^ Mansfield, Edward D.; Snyder, Jack (1995). "Democratization and the Danger of War". International Security. 20 (1): 5–38. doi:10.2307/2539213. ISSN 0162-2889. JSTOR 2539213.
  6. ^ Lee, Damon Wilson, Lynn (2024-05-02). "South Korea Can Be a Democratic Leader". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2024-05-01.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Cotton, James (1989). "From Authoritarianism to Democracy in South Korea". Political Studies. 37 (2): 244–259. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.1989.tb01481.x. ISSN 0032-3217.
  8. ^ Min, Byoung Won (2013). "Biting Back Against Civil Society: Information Technologies and Media Regulations in South Korea". Journal of International and Area Studies. 20 (1): 111–124. ISSN 1226-8550. JSTOR 43111518.
  9. ^ Gong, Qian; Rawnsley, Gary (2018). "Media freedom and responsibility in South Korea: The perceptions of journalists and politicians during the Roh Moo-hyun presidency". Journalism. 19 (9–10): 1257–1274. doi:10.1177/1464884916688287. hdl:2381/38770. ISSN 1464-8849.
  10. ^ Haggard, Stephan; You, Jong-Sung (2015-01-02). "Freedom of Expression in South Korea". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 45 (1): 167–179. doi:10.1080/00472336.2014.947310. ISSN 0047-2336.
  11. ^ Son, Byunghwan (2024-04-18). "Consequences of democratic backsliding in popular culture: evidence from blacklist in South Korea". Democratization: 1–25. doi:10.1080/13510347.2024.2343103. ISSN 1351-0347.
  12. ^ You, Jong-sung; Lin, Jiun-Da (2020). "Liberal Taiwan Versus Illiberal South Korea: The Divergent Paths of Election Campaign Regulation". Journal of East Asian Studies. 20 (3): 437–462. doi:10.1017/jea.2020.12. ISSN 1598-2408.
  13. ^ Mobrand, Erik (2015-12-01). "The Politics of Regulating Elections in South Korea: The Persistence of Restrictive Campaign Laws". Pacific Affairs. 88 (4): 791–811. doi:10.5509/2015884791.
  14. ^ a b "Keeping Autocrats at Bay: Lessons from South Korea and Taiwan". Global Asia. Retrieved 2024-05-01.
  15. ^ Im, Hyug Baeg (2004-01-01). "Faltering democratic consolidation in South Korea: democracy at the end of the 'three Kims' era". Democratization. 11 (5): 179–198. doi:10.1080/13510340412331304642. ISSN 1351-0347.
  16. ^ Hur, Aram; Yeo, Andrew (March 2024). "Democratic Ceilings: The Long Shadow of Nationalist Polarization in East Asia". Comparative Political Studies. 57 (4): 584–612. doi:10.1177/00104140231178724. ISSN 0010-4140.
  17. ^ Kim, Andrew Eungi (2006). "Civic activism and Korean democracy: the impact of blacklisting campaigns in the 2000 and 2004 general elections". The Pacific Review. 19 (4): 519–542. doi:10.1080/09512740600984937. ISSN 0951-2748.
  18. ^ House, The White (2023-08-18). "The Spirit of Camp David: Joint Statement of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States". The White House. Retrieved 2024-05-01.
  19. ^ "Korea, South". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on 29 January 2021. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  20. ^ "Yoon Suk-yeol sworn in as South Korea's new president". The Korea Times. 10 May 2022. Archived from the original on 23 September 2022. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  21. ^ "Who is South Korea's new president Yoon Suk-yeol?". France 24. 10 May 2022. Archived from the original on 23 September 2022. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
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