South Korea Parties and Leaders

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South Korea - Parties and Leaders

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Parties and leaders

Unlike the two former military leaders who had preceded him, Roh Tae Woo followed an indirect course to the chairmanship of the Democratic Justice Party (DJP) and the presidency. A Korean Military Academy classmate of Chun Doo Hwan and Chong Ho-yong and a 1959 graduate of the United States Army Special Warfare School, Roh had passed through a succession of career-building military commands, including a brigade of the Special Warfare Command, before moving a regiment of his frontline Ninth Division into Seoul to support Chun's forcible removal of the army chief of staff and other senior military leaders on December 12, 1979. As Chun consolidated his political position through the spring and summer of 1980, he placed Roh in the most politically sensitive military posts: commander of the Capital Garrison Command and, later, the Defense Security Command. After Chun became president in 1980, however, he retired Roh from the military and used him to fill a series of government posts, beginning as the second minister of political affairs, a position that was apparently created especially for Roh. After a short period as minister of sports in the spring of 1982, Roh served for fifteen months as the minister of home affairs.

In retrospect it seems clear that Roh's ability simultaneously to benefit by, yet distance himself politically from, his association with Chun began in mid-1983 when he was moved from the post of minister of home affairs to take the chairmanship of South Korea's Olympic Committee, which he held through 1986. With the Olympic Committee portfolio, Roh was able to avoid entanglement in increasingly tough police handling of the student movement while remaining in the public eye as the person who had successfully managed the campaign to have Seoul selected as the site of the 1988 Games of the XXIV Olympiad. After his election to the National Assembly in April 1985, Roh emerged as a significant figure in the DJP when Chun appointed him to the party presidency.

At the end of the first two years of the Roh presidency, the DJP was a different party from that bequeathed by Chun in 1981. Roh had surprised political observers when he dismissed one-third of the party's local chapter chairmen and denied the party's nomination in the April 1988 National Assembly election to 126 incumbent party members in favor of relatively unknown and new party members. These decisions undoubtedly cost the party heavily in the number of seats won, but they also enabled Roh to begin to reshape the party in his own image. By December 1988, Roh was ready to consolidate his control of the DJP. Within four days, Roh replaced twenty of twenty-three cabinet ministers, eliminating virtually all those carried over from the Chun administration. He also reshuffled the senior DJP leadership, removing Park Chun-kyu, a former adviser to Park Chung Hee's Democratic Republican Party, from the chairmanship.

The numerically dominant membership, or mainstream, of the DJP was made up of figures from the city of Taegu and North Kyongsang Province, a group sometimes characterized by the press as the TK Mafia, or TK Division (TK for Taegu and Kyongsang). This trend had become evident during the Fifth Republic under Chun and within the Democratic Republican Party under Park Chung Hee before him. Roh also attempted, however, to replace Chun loyalists within the party with individuals who were more likely to owe him their primary loyalty. Roh supporters included some members of an influential subset of the TK group made up of individuals who had graduated from Kyongbuk High School, Roh's alma mater. In December 1988, for example, all of the president's senior staff were Roh's fellow high-school alumni. Taegu- Kyongsang ties also extended to numerous civil and military posts, most notably all army chiefs of staff after 1980, one- quarter of director-level officers in the Korean National Police, and 120 of 662 prosecutors in 1989.

A second group that supported the president comprised a number of older politicians whom the Seoul press termed the New Elders Group. Members of this group fled from North Korea in the 1940s or during the Korean War, held senior positions in various walks of life, especially journalism, and played an important role in rallying the votes of other former North Koreans in Kyonggi and Kangwon provinces in the 1987 presidential election. For this service, they were allowed to return to political life, in many cases for the first time since persons of North Korean origin lost political influence following the fall of Syngman Rhee in 1960 and the 1961 coup d'état of Park Chung Hee. As a group, they were strongly anticommunist and favored the restoration of "law and order" in the face of rising dissent in South Korean society.

Political alignments within the ruling party tended to form around personalities rather than ideas, because of the importance of personal networks in South Korean society and the fact that under the Constitution Roh could not succeed himself. In August 1989, President Roh removed Yi Chong-ch'an from a senior party post. Yi, the leader of a group of DJP members hailing from the Seoul area, was known to favor greater democracy within the party and to oppose revision of the Constitution to create a cabinet- responsible system. After the announcement in early 1990 that the parties of Kim Young Sam and Kim Chong-p'il would merge with that of Roh Tae Woo, observers expected the roles both of ideas and of personal alignments or factions to be even more significant in the new, enlarged Democratic Liberal Party.

New Democratic Republican Party (NDRP) leader Kim Chong-p'il had been nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republican Party following Park's assassination in late 1979, but Kim was arrested by Chun on corruption charges during the latter's takeover in 1980. Kim was accused of corruption and stripped of most of his personal assets in South Korea. He spent six years in the United States. In March 1986, he returned to South Korea to attempt to reconstruct Park's old party and restore his own political fortunes. In a series of speeches in 1986 and 1987, Kim spoke of the need to continue the "revitalizing" tasks of the yusin phase of Park Chung Hee. His appeal initially was to former officials, cashiered military leaders, and others who had lost their positions in 1980. As Kim's message changed to emphasize his association with the beginnings of South Korea's modern economic development in the 1960s, he began to attract some younger, conservative South Koreans, and many from his native Ch'ungch'ong Province. By October 30, 1987, when Kim's NDRP was formally established, people under the age of forty made up more than half of the party's 3,000 charter members. Others included the twenty-one National Assembly members of the now defunct Korea Nationalist Party, which during the 1980s had provided a home for political survivors of Park Chung Hee's party.

Kim Young Sam was a veteran politician with a strong constituency in Pusan and in South Kyongsang Province. As a National Assembly member for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 1960s, he fought a series of losing battles against Park Chung Hee on such issues as normalization of relations with Japan in 1965. By 1970 he had risen to the top policy-making committee of the NDP. He lost the party's nomination to political rival Kim Dae Jung in the presidential election of 1971, but continued to hold top party posts through 1979, when the government-dominated National Assembly expelled him after he called for the resignation of Park and the abandonment of the yusin system. This incident contributed to large-scale unrest in Pusan and nearby Masan and may have indirectly contributed to Park's assassination.

Kim Young Sam, like other well-known political figures, such as Kim Chong-p'il and Kim Dae Jung, was banned from politics in 1980 by Chun Doo Hwan; he spent the early 1980s under house arrest. A Presbyterian elder, Kim used the enforced leisure in well-publicized self-improvement along traditional cultural lines common to exiled South Korean politicians--seen in photo opportunities from time to time while practicing calligraphy in his book-lined study, or while on permitted outings with his Democratic Alpine Club. Government censorship prevented detailed press coverage of his twenty-three-day hunger strike against the Chun government in May and June 1983. Although Kim's house arrest was lifted after the hunger strike, his political rights were not restored until after the February 1985 National Assembly elections. Kim subsequently joined his faction members in the newly formed New Korea Democratic Party as an official party adviser, while his long-time rival, Kim Dae Jung, directed his own faction in the party from outside it as a member of the Council for Promotion of Democracy.

In the late 1980s, South Korean political observers, increasingly interested in the question of leadership succession within the opposition parties, focused their attention more on generational groupings than on factions. Seen this way, the RDP was broadly divided into old-line Kim Young Sam loyalists and some additional experienced opposition politicians in their fifties and an emergent group of younger politicians, mostly in their forties. Many of the latter group began their first terms in the National Assembly in 1988. They typically brought to their political careers progressive political credentials earned in human rights law, labor relations, or other fields. Several members of this group received nationwide attention for their cogent interrogation techniques during the National Assembly hearings in late 1988.

At the time of the presidential elections in December 1987, sixty-two-year-old opposition leader Kim Dae Jung from the Cholla region was in many ways the South Korean political candidate best known outside of South Korea. The one-time newspaper publisher, a Roman Catholic of eclectic views, and a charismatic popular speaker elected to the National Assembly four times in the 1960s, Kim had an international reputation that was largely due to the continuous efforts of the South Korean government to keep him out of the country, in prison, or under house arrest following his near-victory over Park in the 1971 presidential election. He had built active support organizations among South Koreans in Japan and the United States when the Korean Central Intelligence Agency kidnapped him at a Tokyo hotel in 1973. Following United States intervention to save his life during the abduction, he was brought back to South Korea to stand trial for alleged violation of the election law and Park's Emergency Measure Number Nine. He served several years of imprisonment and house arrest, then was released and had his civil rights restored in 1980 on the heels of the October 1979 assassination of Park.

Again arrested under martial law in May 1980, Kim Dae Jung was accused of fomenting the Kwangju incident and sentenced to death by a military court on sedition charges that the United States Department of State described at the time as "far-fetched". Under pressure from the United States government, his death sentence was subsequently reduced to life and then to twenty years' imprisonment. This term was suspended in late 1982 when Kim went to the United States to seek medical treatment. In the United States, Kim divided his time among a research appointment at Harvard University, the Korean Institute for Human Rights in Alexandria, Virginia (informally known as the Kim Dae Jung Embassy), and wide-ranging travels to speak before Korean-American groups and United States civic, academic, and human rights organizations. Kim returned to South Korea in February 1985 on the eve of the National Assembly elections. In March 1985, he was released from the 1980 general ban on political activity, although the suspended criminal charges still in effect meant that he could neither belong to a party nor run for office. He immediately joined with Kim Young Sam, who had also had his ban lifted, to establish the Council for Promotion of Democracy. Although Kim Dae Jung spent most of the next two years under house arrest, he telephonically provided informal guidance to his faction within the New Korea Democratic Party and, after April 1985, within the Reunification Democratic Party (RDP). As part of the political understanding reached in late June 1987, the government dropped all outstanding charges against him and he reemerged to participate fully in politics. After negotiations with the Kim Young Sam faction of the RDP failed to reach agreement concerning a unified candidacy, the Kim Dae Jung faction and its supporters left in October 1987 to form the Party for Peace and Democracy (PPD). The December 16 election was fast approaching when Kim received his party's presidential nomination on November 12.

As the 1990s began, the PPD was made up of at least three discernible groups. The first group comprised old-line Kim Dae Jung followers who occupied the senior positions in the party hierarchy holding unquestioning loyalty to the party leader. A second group, making up more than one-half of the party's seventy-one National Assembly seats after the April 1988 election, consisted of first-termers obliged by custom to play a low-key role in party affairs until acquiring more political experience. Within this group, however, was a subgroup of activists with long experience in cause-oriented groups and human rights law. Many of these activists had worked for the party in the National Assembly elections in 1985; a few had run as independents in 1988 before formally joining the party. Many of this group, organized as the Study Group for Peaceful and Democratic Reunification (P'yongminyon) within the party, participated conspicuously in National Assembly hearings in 1988. Collectively, they constituted the party's left wing and its link with the broader dissident movement outside of the National Assembly. Political speculation in late 1989 centered on whether this group would continue to exert a leftward pull, seeking to bring the position of the PPD closer to that of South Korea's emergent left. Observers noted that several PPD members of this group also were members of the Coalition for a National Democratic Movement (Chomminyon) formed in January 1989 and were likely to be involved with that organization's plans to form a progressive political party to participate in the first local council elections scheduled to take place in 1990.

Chonminyon was one of a variety of groups that considered plans to form cause-oriented political parties in anticipation of local council elections. These bodies included a group of some fifty former cabinet members and retired generals who believed that the government party was not conservative enough and at least two groups of environmentalists who planned to establish parties dedicated to that issue. A proposed Green Party, like its European counterparts, planned to emphasize antiwar and antinuclear issues as well as the cause of the environment, but also supported a concept of "Oriental humanity" that would promote respect for the elderly and other traditional virtues.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

South Korea Political parties and leaders - Government
List of political parties in South Korea - Wikipedia
Political Parties - South-Korea - korea4expats
Politics of South Korea - Wikipedia
President of South Korea | Current Leader - Planet Rulers

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