Democratic consolidation in Korea
By Victor Foo
It is noteworthy that, since 1987, South Korea has been a democracy. Over the years, its democracy has matured and is the envy of many countries who wish to learn about Korea’s democratization.
However, because democracy in South Korea is still young, there are several challenges that the nation must overcome if it wishes to become a mature and developed democracy.
Since 1987, South Korea has a list of positive achievements to date.
It has stable civilian administrations with the military put under the barracks and controlled by civilians. The nation has instituted a real-name accounting system that reveals the names of individuals who deposit money into any dubious accounts.
It jailed former president Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo and shed light on the truth about the Gwangju Massacre. The nation has aggressively pursued many other progressive agendas such as women’s rights, national human rights commissions, and Internet societies.
In politics, the power of the presidency has become much more equal with the prosecution, tax agencies and national intelligence offices are now independent of any political influence. The press club system has gone away.
Koreans have revised the election funding law to reduce the influence of money politics and businesses. The President now no longer controls his party chairmanship to exert his influence on the nomination of candidates for elected posts. The country has adopted the primary system at least for presidential, gubernatorial and mayoral elections. Petty corruption and bribery has declined considerably.
But there are some problems that need to be solved. First, the nation’s constitution must be changed to reduce the concentration of power in the hands of the presidents. This is to prevent family members and close friends of the president from succumbing to corruption.
Second, the nation must expand the primary system to all elected posts, so people can participate to nominate their candidates and prevent them from being beholden to the interests of the party bosses.
Third, Korea must adopt a dual constituency system that allows more than one candidate running in the same constituency to lessen the degree of regionalism. However, regionalism is declining as manifested in the recent 2010 local election. Fourth, Korea must reform its economic structure to reduce its reliance on a handful of conglomerates and to have as many small- and medium-sized enterprises become big companies to rival the current conglomerates in the future.
This can reduce the corrupt bargaining power of the existing conglomerates. Whenever chairmen have turned out to be guilty of corruption, they have always been handed suspended sentences. If their bargaining power decreases, they are more likely to be put behind bars.
Fifth, Korea must change its presidential pardon system. Perhaps, an independent board with equal representatives from executive, legislative and the judicial branches to oversee the legality of the case for granting presidential pardons can be established. This can reduce the chance for the corrupt to be set free.
Sixth, Korea must reform its existing law enforcement agencies such as the Prosecution Office to restrain their power in order to prevent corruption. Seventh, Korean politicians must compromise and debate maturely on deliberating national issues. It is time to end wasteful and confrontational disputes.
I am confident that Koreans will address these problems. It is only a matter of time. History has shown that whenever Korean people face any challenges, they can overcome it and emerge stronger.
Based on my understanding, the governments have given a hint that they have taken some steps to address these problems.
The writer lives in Hong Kong. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.