South Korea


The history of South Korea is inevitably closely tied to its northern counterpart in the Korean Peninsula with the history of mankind on the peninsula going back as far as 400,000 years.

In 2333 B.C. the ancient kingdom of Gojoseon was founded in northern Korea and Manchuria. This was followed by the Gija Joseon (around 12th Century B.C.) and the Jin state (3rd Century B.C.)

The Chinese Han Dynasty invaded the peninsula in the 2nd Century B.C. and this was followed by the Three Kingdoms and the Kingdom of Balhae (698 A.D.).

In 1392 the Joseon Dynasty was founded and this lasted until 1910 when Imperial Japan invaded the peninsula. The Japanese remained in place until the end of World War Two when Korea was partitioned. In 1948 two states were created, the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north.

Soon after the two republics were created, in 1950, the north invaded the south and the Korean War was fought with American, British, Australian and other United Nations countries fighting on the side of the south. The war came to an end in 1953 and a peace treaty was signed in 1954 with a boundary drawn along the 38th Parallel.

The first republic was born in 1948 when Syngman Rhee became its first president. Although it started as a democratic government, increasingly the rule became more autocratic and in 1960, following mass protests, Rhee was forced to resign.

The second republic was born that same year with the election of the Democratic Party; they took 175 of the 233 seats in the National Assembly. Facing an uphill struggle, the government had hardly started its reforms when a military coup (the 5.16 coup d’état) led by Major General Park Chung-lee swept the Democratic Party out of office.

Park became the new president in 1962 and heralded a further period of autocratic rule. This period is known as the third republic.

The fourth republic was ushered in when the so called Yusin Constitution of 1972 gave greater powers to the president leading to a more repressive rule under Park.

The inevitable happened on Friday 26th October 1979 when Park was assassinated. That immediate coup attempt failed, but it was followed by another coup which was led by Major General Chun Doo-hwan on 12th December.

Chun was elected president in an indirect election in September 1980, leading to the fifth republic. A new constitution introduced the president to a one term seven year limit as well as increased powers for the National Assembly.

In 1987 a further change to the constitution led to direct presidential elections and the restoration of civil rights. The sixth republic was created with the election of Roh Tae-woo. He was another man from the military who was elected largely because of a divided opposition.

1992 saw the first election of a civilian president in 30 years. Kim Young-sam of the Democratic Liberal Party (now part of the Grand National Party; GNP) was elected with 42% of the vote. His election led to local elections and, in 1996, parliamentary elections which the New Korea Party (NKP) (now part of the GNP) won, taking 139 of 299 seats in the National Assembly.

In 1997 the financial crisis which had embroiled much of south Asia led to the opposition leader, Kim Dae-jung of the National Congress for New Politics party (now part of the Democratic Party) winning the election with 40.3% of the vote. This was the first transfer of power by peaceful means in the history of South Korea.

In 2002 Roh Moo-hyun of the Millennium Democratic Party (later the United Democratic Party and now the Democratic Party) became president. He took 48.91% of the vote. He was subsequently impeached after bribery and corruption charges and was replaced by Lee Myung-bak in 2007 of the Grand National Party, winning the election with 48.7% of the vote (Roh committed suicide in 2009).

The President is elected by popular vote for a single five year term.

The unicameral National Assembly has 300 seats (increased from 299 on 28th February 2012) of which 245 members are elected in single-seat constituencies and 55 are elected by proportional representation. Members serve four year terms.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places South Korea at 52nd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 53 (where 100 is least corrupt).