A dual transition—to a consolidated democracy and an advanced market economy—represents the main challenge that the Korean political and economic system currently confronts. During the two decades since it became a democracy, South Korea has faced lingering problems, such as poor governance, high-level corruption, lack of leadership, political conflict, social polarization, volatile public opinion, and lack of consensus on major issues.

At the same time, profound 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, civic distrust, and a lingering leadership crisis.

Although Korean democracy is successfully consolidated, it is far from effective. 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. Under these circumstances, political institutions have been pushed aside, and civic organizations are dominant.

The post-democratic political system has failed to deliver what the government promised or what the people expected, making political distrust higher and politics more unstable. Limited to a single five-year term and constrained by social and political division and lack of consensus on major issues, it is difficult for any Korean president to achieve fundamental changes in the society. Nevertheless, the Korean public tends to blame current political leaders for national problems. This is not unique to Korea—we see a similar phenomenon in Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

An understanding of the complex nature of Korean politics requires both an analysis of long-term trends within Korea and comparative studies tht include other Asian democracies. What have been the general characteristics of the process of Korean democratization over the past two decades? How is the Korean democracy similar to or different from other democracies? How can Korea enhance political stability and good governance? How different is leadership among democratically elected presidents and between them and authoritarian leaders? What are the implications of Korean politics for the country's 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

Related to staff:

Denny Roy