South Korea in 1990 was divided into six provincial-level cities--the special city (t' ukpyolsi) of Seoul (Soult ' ukpyolsi to Koreans) and the five cities directly governed (chikhalsi) by the central government, Pusan, Taegu, Inch'on, Taejon, and Kwangju--and nine provinces, or to including Cheju Island. Major cities were divided into wards (ku) and precincts (tong). A province was composed of counties (gun) and cities (si) with a population of more than 50,000. A county consisted of towns (up) with a population of 20,000 and more each, townships (myon), and villages (ri). Both cities and towns had further subdivisions designed to facilitate communication between government and people on local community matters.
The need for local self-government was first recognized in 1948; a local autonomy law was enacted in 1949. It was not until December 1960, however, that local elections for the mayors of Seoul and Pusan, provincial governors, and local councils--the first in Korean history--were held. Under the system in operation from the military coup d'état of May 1961 until late 1969, Seoul, Pusan, and the provincial governments were under the direct control of the central government. In view of its special importance, Seoul was controlled by the central government and made subordinate to the Office of the Prime Minister. Provincial administrations and the special cities reported to the Department of Local Affairs of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Likewise, administrative departments of provincial and city governments maintained close contacts with the regional and central offices of the respective cabinet ministries. The police apparatus in each locale also was administratively responsible to the National Police Headquarters in Seoul. The mayor of Seoul was appointed by the president and usually was regarded as his close confidant. Heads of other administrative divisions were recommended by the minister of home affairs for presidential approval. Mayors of ordinary cities and county chiefs--members of the civil service-- were recommended by the provincial governor for appointment by the president. Heads of towns and townships were named by county chiefs; heads of wards and precincts by mayors; and village chiefs by heads of townships.
Under the system of proportionality in use in the National Assembly in 1985, the majority of the at-large seats--two-thirds- -was given to the party that came in first. This arrangement disproportionately favored the government party, with its traditional advantages of incumbency. Thus, in the 1985 general elections, the government party ended up with a little over 35 percent of the popular vote--the largest share--but held more than 53 percent of the seats in the legislature. Conversely, the second-placed party, with roughly 29 percent of the votes, occupied just over 24 percent of the seats after the at-large seats were distributed. The two-member district system used in 1985 also helped the government party, which had little chance of finishing first in many pro-opposition urban districts, but could hope to win a second-place seat.
In late 1989, the National Assembly passed legislation designed to increase local autonomy over the following two years. Under the newly amended Act Concerning Local Autonomy, local autonomy was to be introduced in several phases. Local councils would be elected by June 1990. The central government was to continue appointing local administrative heads--including mayors of the six special cities and nine provinces--until elections for those posts, scheduled for 1991, could be held. The government would retain full control over deputy heads of special cities and provinces for the first four years, after which the central government would merely ratify the choices of the mayors and provincial governors. In a last-minute compromise, the National Assembly acceded to the opposition parties' position, permitting political parties to nominate candidates for local elections either individually or in coalition with other parties. Related laws scheduled for National Assembly consideration in 1990, were expected to address other details of local government, including the question of financial autonomy.
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