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New Left Review I/197, January-February 1993


Paik Nak-chung

South Korea: Unification and the Democratic Challenge

The victory of the ruling party candidate Kim Young-sam over Kim Dae-jung in the recent (December 1992) Presidential election marks a significant milestone in South Korean politics. Obviously it promises less of a change than an oppositional victory, but the mere fact that the winner is the first civilian in thirty two years to hold power is a substantial novelty. That he was for most of his political career an opposition leader, an erstwhile colleague and rival of Kim Dae-jung’s in the democratic movement, also entails a style and outlook markedly different even from most civilians in the ruling circles, for all the anger his abrupt change of course aroused among some of his former supporters when, in January 1990, he decided to join forces with President Roh Tae-woo. Kim Young-sam’s candidacy, moreover, seems to have received less than full-hearted support from Roh, and while the Government’s ‘neutrality’ during the campaign was not quite what it was proclaimed to be, it may have reflected as much a certain coolness toward Kim on Roh’s part as an awareness that the public would not brook the more blatant kinds of foul play habitual in the past. At any rate, the election process was orderly enough, and the winner’s margin sufficiently comfortable (42 per cent to 34 per cent with a third candidate receiving 16 per cent), to elicit quick opposition acquiescence in the outcome—another novelty in South Korean politics.

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