University of California, Los Angeles

Is South Korea heading away from democratic form of government?

Economic success and economic allocation under authoritarian political suppression began to be overturned in South Korea during the late 1980’s. Democratic policies gradually substituted autarchy with steady economic benefits. An important event in history for South Korea was when they experienced a financial disaster in 1997 which further contributed to an increase in poverty and job uncertainty. After the disaster of 1997, government welfare improvement strategies were too clumsy to stop degenerating poverty levels and divergence. Which lead to a growing number of the lower class which was left them vulnerable and caused social outsiders. The incapability of the South Korean government to handle the financial crisis and economic recession elevated levels of public dissatisfaction with the democratic government’s functioning and backsliding, leading to reduced public backing for democracy. The declining sincerity of democracy in Korea jeopardized its link and sustainability. In recent times, even though Koreans are still dedicated to the principles of democracy, they were deeply dissatisfied with democracy in exercise and disturbingly involved to a non-democratic mode of government. Rising dissatisfaction in recent times have led to longing for the original leader of Park Chung Hee’s authoritarian type of government. The cohabitation and implementation of democratic values and desirability of old authoritarian practice not only reduced democratic strengthening but also tarnished democratic acceptability.


People living in Korean in recent times and those who were familiar with the financial crisis, remain dedicated to democracy in its core values but are disappointed with the practice of it. A study shown that an 92% of Koreans believed democracy was necessary for South Korea and 74% considered it fitting. But surprisingly, less than half of these people stated an unconditional support for democracy. When researchers questioned whether democracy is always preferable to any other kind of government, 47% of Koreans responded with a positive viewpoint compared to Japanese (70%) and Taiwanese (50%). Therefore, researchers concluded that the validity of Korean democracy is extensive in scope but shallow in depth. The Asian Barometer Survey #I (2001-03) and Survey #2 (2005-08) also presented that Koreans confidence in democratic usefulness fell from 72% to 55%, which was the second largest decline among Asian democratizing countries after Thailand (24%). This data also uncovered information that Koreans support for democracy decreased from 61% to 48% over the same period which was the second lowest numbers next to the Philippines (38%).


The economic failure of the democratic type pf government for South Korea after the financial crisis created the recalling for the original authoritarian type of regime when South Korea first became an independent country. Koreans unsatisfied with meager government functioning vividly recalled the authoritarian style which led to successful economic growth. The desire for this authoritarianism is also provoked by economic successes recently by South Korean neighboring non-democratic Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore and China’s economic flexibility and elasticity in the moment of an intricate and quickly globalizing world economy has caused worries in South Korean people. As a result, although the majority of Koreans still favor the democratic government to an authoritarian organization, the increasing longing by the people for authoritarianism is a mark that democratic validity has deteriorated leading to backsliding.

Remaining authoritarian craving by citizens could be seen as a threat because it creates discontented people into what is known as distrustful non-democrats, these people are those who have acceptance of less democracy for the hope of economic recovery which could possibly threaten democratic stability. The signs in Korea relating to the related existence of an incomplete dedication to democracy due to worrying democratic implementation with only a fractional detachment from authoritarianism have begun to creep back, and have the probable chance to weaken democratic alliance in Korea. Growing political unconcern and pessimism in government can see in Korea by the progressively decreasing voter turnouts since the start of democratization in 1987, all major elections ranging from local, parliamentary, and even presidential. More troublesome problems in recent times is the drift towards political conservatism among the lower class and the elderly population.



This issue of Korea remains a puzzling mystery in the study of modern democratization and civilized countries because South Korea’s working and lower class were the main contributors to the economic growth in the past, these people were plagued by key leaders and were important driving factors to overthrowing the longtime authoritarian government of South Korea in the democratization movement of the 1980’s. But, this group of people in recent times have started to idealize the autocratic leaders from the past. This lower class of individuals experienced non-idealistic conditions from authoritarian domination and stood against the government. This is supportive from the previous statement showing that people are missing old values of Park and accomplished their want to return to old government by selecting his daughter Park Guen-Hye as President in 2015. It is interesting to see that even though these people suffered from the past financial crisis and neoliberal economic reforms that created worse living environments and weakened employment statuses for many people, the working-class people of South Korea sided with conservative political parties and runners.



Park, C. (2011). Political discontent in South Korea. International Review of Sociology

Shin, D. C. (2011). Is democracy the only political game worth playing in Korea? Exploring citizen attitudes toward democratic legitimacy

Koo, H. (2001). Korean workers: The culture and politics of class formation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press





    March 14, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    I thought this post provided insights on democracies with a fairly recent authoritarian past. While in the US the rise of populism hearkens back to an intangible, almost mythical era, there is a distinct time period that Korean conservative voters would like to return to–the authoritarian regime of Park Guen-Hye. Failure of democracy to maintain the same economic growth that Park’s authoritarian policies fostered has created a conservative backlash amongst the Korean electorate.

    I think your point about Korean democratic values, that they are broad in scope but shallow in depth correlates with Korea’s authoritarian past. Koreans are open to democratic values so long as they provide the same economic growth as an autocracy. The failure of democracy to maintain economic growth, rather than democracy itself, causes the romantic longing for the previous authoritarian regime. Liberal values are a luxury, not inherent.

    While the economic success of neighboring countries under authoritarian regimes may exacerbate the growing romanticism of authoritarianism within Korea, I believe it is still the economic failures of Korea’s democratic government that contribute the most to the growing discontent. If the economy had continued to prosper after the democratic transition, the Korean public would not look for alternatives to democracy and would not look to other authoritarian regimes with envy. Korea’s potential democratic erosion is due not to neighboring economic success rather its own government’s economic shortcomings.


    March 14, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    I was enticed by the country of choice as I am very interested in both South and North Korea. Obviously only one of the countries is a democracy so here we are. Although I am not a fan of the style of this blog post the information presented was extremely thorough, such as the section in which held a lot of statistics such as the approval ratings of democracy and later with the economic effects of democracy. Lots of resources and citations used which is really nice.


    March 15, 2018 at 3:30 am

    I also chose South Korea as an example of democratic erosion and thought your post did an excellent job in capturing the change in public attitude backed by solid research data. This article identifies public fainting belief due to government incapability to handle economic recession as main evidence for democratic erosion. As the author points out, South Koreans are experiencing a counter-intuitive emotion: craving for strong, effective authoritarian government. Indeed, as a typical new democratic country, Korea’s social capital, universalistic beliefs and public perceptions of government officials are yet to be developed and remained incomparable to those in more advanced democracies. Those informal democratic institutions are susceptible to socio-economic changes. This dawns on us the significance of civil society and media, as they are effective long-term democratic ideology promoters. Moreover, I believe Korea’s democratic erosion has many similarities with other developmental states, and the most important implication is that the formal democratic institutions alone cannot ensure long-term democratic development.

    On a side note, you mentioned that it is the lower and lower-middle class Koreans that are most dissatisfied with status quo and the most fervent supporters of an authoritarian government. This is the same demographics that supported Trump, a figure that is widely considered as “not-so-democratic”. It would be an interesting comparison to draw between these two nations and analyze why the democratic erosion happens mostly within these socioeconomic classes.

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