The Democratic Interlude

The Democratic Interlude

Rhee's resignation left a political void subsequently filled by Ho Chong, whom Rhee had appointed foreign minister the day before he resigned. Although Ho was a lifelong friend of Rhee, he had maintained amicable relations with Democratic Party leaders and thus was acceptable to all concerned. Between April and July 1960, Ho's transitional government maintained order, exiled Rhee and his wife to Hawaii, and prepared for a new general election of the National Assembly in July. That body revised the constitution on June 15, instituting a parliamentary form of government with a bicameral legislature. In the July election, the Democratic Party won 175 of the 233 seats in the lower house of the National Assembly. The second largest group, the independents, won forty-nine seats. The Liberal Party won only two seats. In the upper house, the Democratic Party won thirty-one of the fifty-eight seats.

The Democratic Party had been a coalition of two divergent elements that had merged in 1955 to oppose Rhee. When the common enemy--Rhee and his Liberal Party--had been removed from the scene and opportunities for power were presented, each group sought to obtain the spoils for itself.

The Democratic Party candidate for the presidency in the March 1960 election, Cho Pyong-ok, died of illness shortly before the election, just as his predecessor, Sin Ik-hui, had in 1956. The two groups openly struggled against each other during the July elections for the National Assembly. Although they agreed on Yun Po-son as presidential candidate and Chang Myon as their choice for premier, neither had strong leadership qualities nor commanded the respect of the majority of the party elite. Yun and Chang could not agree on the composition of the cabinet. Chang attempted to hold the coalition together by reshuffling cabinet positions three times within a five-month period. In November 1960, the group led by Yun left the Democratic Party and formed the New Democratic Party (Simmindang).

In the meantime, the tasks confronting the new government were daunting. The economy suffered from mismanagement and corruption. The army and police needed to be purged of the political appointees who had buttressed the dictatorship. The students, to whom the Democratic Party owed its power, filled the streets almost daily, making numerous wide-ranging demands for political and economic reforms, but the Democratic Party had no ready-made programs. Law and order could not be maintained because the police, long an instrument of the Rhee government, were demoralized and totally discredited by the public. Continued factional wrangling caused the public to turn away from the party.

This situation provided a fertile ground for a military coup. Whereas Rhee had been able to control the military because of his personal prestige, his skill in manipulating the generals, and the control mechanisms he had instituted, Chang lacked all these advantages. When the demands of the young army officers under Major General Park Chung Hee were rebuffed, and as political power appeared to be increasingly hanging in the balance with no one clearly in charge, the army carried out a coup d'état on May 16, 1961. Chang's own army chief of staff, Chang To-yong, joined the junta and Chang's fragile government was toppled. (The junta subsequently tried and convicted General Chang for attempting to take over the junta.) The young officers' initial complaint had been that Chang Myon had not kept a campaign pledge to weed out corrupt generals from the South Korean army, and some Korean sources attributed this failure to the intervention of highranking United States military officers, who feared the weakening of South Korea's national security.

Yun Po-son sided with the junta and persuaded the United States Eighth Army and the commanders of various South Korean army units not to interfere with the new rulers. Yun stayed on as president for ten months after the military junta took over power, thereby legitimizing the coup. A small number of young officers commanding 3,600 men had succeeded in toppling a government with authority over an army of 600,000.

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