Political Aspects of Korea-related Issues
A dual transition, i.e., a transition to a consolidated democracy and an advanced market economy represents the main challenge the Korean political and economic system currently confronts. During the two decades since its transition to a full democracy, South Korea has faced lingering problems, such as poor governance, lack of leadership, political conflict, social polarization, volatile public opinion and lack of consensus on major issues. Partly because of political or governmental failure, the country experienced a financial crisis in 1997-98. Although Korea overcame the financial crisis successfully, the social and political consequences of the crisis linger.

Moreover, profound generational and leadership changes have fundamentally changed the South Korean political landscape. The new leadership has attempted to dismantle social, economic and political structures that were formed during the Cold War and to establish a more democratic and diplomatically independent society. Such an approach has resulted in further social and political conflict, trials and errors in policy, political distrust, and a lingering leadership crisis. Although Korean democracy is successfully consolidated, it is far from effective. Koreans’ expectation of government is high but the government appears unable to deliver what the public wants. There are profound generational cleavages over various national issues, including economic and social policies, policies toward North Korea and national defense, and attitudes towards the United States and China.

Such moves complicate South Korean politics. Under the circumstances, political institutions are pushed aside, and civic organizations are dominating. The politics of new generation thus failed to deliver what the government promised or what the people expected, making political distrust higher, politics more unstable, Given five-year single term and with constraints of social and political division and lack of consensus on major issues, the current Korean president might have tried to achieve a fundamental change in the society, which appears to be difficult to do. Nevertheless, there is a tendency in the Korean public to blame the current political leaders for national problems. It is not unique in Korea: we see similar phenomena in Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Many Koreans expect the next Korean president who will be elected in December 2007 stabilize and improve Korean politics.

In order to understand the complex nature of Korean politics, an analysis of long-term trends in Korean politics as well as comparative studies of Korea and other Asian democracies are important. What are the general characteristics of the process of Korean democratization in the last two decades? How different is the Korean case from other democracies in Asia? How can Korea enhance political stability as well as good governance? How different is leadership among democratically elected presidents and between them and authoritarian leaders?  How is the Korean democracy similar to or different from other democracies? What are the implications of Korean politics on its economy and foreign relations?

The following topics are suggested for the POSCO Visiting Fellowship:

  • Evaluation of Korean democracy since the 1987 democratic transition
  • Comparative study of democratic consolidation and maturation in South Korea and other countries
  • Korean presidential leadership and comparison of governance between Korea and other democracies
  • Korean politics in the age of the internet
  • The role of civic organizations in Korean politics
  • The 2007 Korean presidential election and implications for Korean democracy