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New Left Review 79, January-February 2013

kevin gray


The triumphant return of Park Geun-Hye to the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace, after her victory in the December 2012 election, cannot but prompt reflections on the nature of the country’s democratization process. Ms Park grew up there as the daughter of the dictator Park Chung-Hee, who ruled the Republic of Korea with an iron fist after the 1961 military coup that brought him to power. Following her mother’s death in 1974, the young Geun-Hye served as General Park’s First Lady, until he in turn was shot over the dinner table by his chief of intelligence in 1979. The dictatorship persisted for another eight years under Park’s brutal successor, General Chun, in face of countrywide protests that culminated in the great June Uprising of 1987, after which a period of ‘managed democracy’ ensued. The decade of centre-left government that opened in 1997, under the presidencies of Kim Dae Jung, a famous dissident, and Roh Mu-hyun, a former civil-rights lawyer, suggested to many that the liberal opposition movement had at last entered into its inheritance, supplanting an older, more conservative generation—albeit under the inauspicious sign of the Asian debt crisis. In 2007, however, a low turn-out by disappointed Roh voters helped the right-wing candidate, ex-Hyundai ceo Lee Myung-Bak, into the Blue House with the support of just 30 per cent of the overall electorate.

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Kevin Gray, ‘Political Cultures of South Korea’, NLR 79: £3

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