Perhaps the most substantial change of the 1987 amendment was conducting the presidential elections by direct, and secret ballot. The president is, of course, the chief executive and holds the right to approve or veto all legislation passed by the National Assembly, and to "refer important policy matters to a national referendum, declare war, conclude peace and other treaties, appoint senior public officials, and grant amnesty." (Mortimer 206). The president heads several advisory councils appointed by him to communicate specific matters of state. These councils include: the Advisory Council on State Affairs, the Advisory Council for Peaceful Unification Policy, the Constitution Committee, the Central Election Management Committee, and the National Economic Advisory Council (Mortimer 208). Also, the Presidential Secretariat -- analogous to the White House Staff in the U.S. -- is responsible for political, economic, and other specialized areas.
The judicial branch of the South Korean government was "established under the Constitution and the much-amended Court Organization Law of 1949." (Mortimer 210). The major augmentations the amendment of 1987 brought into effect were intended to increase the independence of the judicial branch.
'The chief justice is appointed by the president, with the consent of the National Assembly, for a nonrenewable term of six years. Other Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the chief justice for renewable six-year terms. Judges of the other courts are appointed by the chief justice for renewable ten-year terms." (Macdonald 156).
A separate court of nine members was also established in 1987 called the Constitutional Court, whose purpose is to rule on the constitutionality of laws, impeachment, the dissolution of political party, and executive branch judiciary disputes (Macdonald 156). Within its first year of existence, the Constitutional Court gave rulings in over 400 cases; this is in contrast to the previous court, established in the 1960's that made a total of only three rulings. Generally, the Constitution of 1987 righted many of the wrongs that had permeated the South Korean government since its establishment in the wake of the Second World War and the Korean War. Presidential power was given strict limitations, the legislature was delegated more influence, and the judiciary was granted a greater level of independence.
The presidential elections of 2003 brought Roh Moo Hyun into power with Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan joining him in 2004 (infoplease.com). They currently preside over a South Korean government that can more properly be called a democracy. Underneath them, are local councils that are organized and elected according to the laws specified under Chapter VIII of the 1987 amendment. "In 1991 there were elections for local councils in the towns and townships, and in 1995 there were elections fro mayors and governors." (Macdonald 157). Doubtlessly, the South Korean government has undergone more changes than most other nations over the past half-century, and their status as a true democracy is still very new. Traditionally, the government was upheld by a strong military backing that discouraged dissent; it should not be surprising, therefore, that understanding and general acceptance of the newer structure of the government is fairly menial. Ancient traditions and philosophies still hold substantial sway in South Korea, and many remain apprehensive towards Western notions of government.
The numerous political movements within South Korea over the past century have all been born out of desires to escape the oppression of military dictators. Each successive movement has brought the nation one step closer to democratic freedom. "The April Revolution [of 1960] was the first in the history of Korea wherein a people armed with nothing but their bare fists succeeded in overthrowing an oppressive government." (Lee 385). Although the government that emerged from this revolution was far from perfect, it set South Korea on the path towards a more functional democracy. The latest amendments are unlikely to be the last, and this is encouraging news. After all, a democratic government is not intended to be stationary, and must adjust to the ever-changing needs of its people. Relative to other nations that have attempted to imitate Western forms of government, South Korea, in recent years, has become a modest success story. These series of revolutions suggest an increasing openness of the South Korean people to new ideas and ways of thinking, making them one of the most interesting combinations of Western, Eastern, and indigenous philosophies.
1. "Korea, South." Infoplease.
Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease.
14 Nov. 2004 .
2. Macdonald, Donald Stone. The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society. Boulder: Westview…