1.4. Military Dictatorship and Democracy
On May 16, 1961, General Park Chunghee (Pak Chonghui: 1917-1979) led a military coup against the Chang government. Considering the Chang government to be both unstable and in disarray, Park immediately grasped control of national affairs through his military personnel. A month later, in June 1961, Park created the Han'guk Chungang Chongbo-bu [the Korean Central Intelligence Agency: KCIA], fortifying systematic surveillance and executing a policy of torture and interrogation without warrant. Park and his military partisans had already dissolved the National Assembly and all provincial legislatures and, for the first time since the Japanese annexation, forbade any kind of political activity whatsoever. By the end of the year, Park had arrested 3,333 political opponents.
When the military took political power, Korean politics moved into a new historical stage, identified by an inflow of army officers into the new regime. Initially the country was put under martial law. The Supreme Council for National Reconstruction (SCNR: military junta) took control and started to form a new scheme of national military control. At the same time Park's junta continually asserted in public that the 'revolution' was purely a transient stage in the move towards a democratic process.
In November 1962 the junta brought about a public constitutional amendment bill. This bill on the one hand guaranteed a powerful president. On the other hand it produced a weak, single-chamber National Assembly as a way of checking presidential power and influence. The military junta also did not favour democracy, that is freedom of the press and assembly. Like the Japanese colonial regime of 1910-1945, the junta concluded that political activity and balloting only served to prolong and procrastinate issues, and press censorship grew to levels not experienced since the Japanese colonial era. However, due to international pressure, Park vowed that civilian government would be restored through general elections to be held in 1963. At the beginning of 1963, Park delivered a declaration that he would not have a role in the civilian government to be created later that year, if civilian political leaders would uphold a "political stabilisation proposal".
In March, however, following intense upheaval in the ruling junta itself and increasingly chaotic circumstances created by the proliferation of petty political parties, Park stated that military control would be extended for another four years. The proposal encountered strong objections from the population and non-military political leaders. However, 160 military leaders (most of them were of general officer rank) affirmed a proclamation agreeing to the extension. Under huge pressure not only domestically but also internationally, Park once more altered direction and declared, on April 8, 1963, a blueprint for having elections at the end of the year. In late May, in spite of his previous public pledge, Park proclaimed himself the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic-Republican Party (DRP).
The DRP adopted the authoritarianism of its Liberal Party predecessor. The Party was run from the top, with Park as party president supported by a chairman with no personal or political significance.
In 1963 in the subsequent presidential elections, Park, by a narrow margin, beat the opposition party candidate, Yun Poson (1897-1990). But the opposition party claimed a rigged election.
Economic accomplishments, which were one of Japan's propaganda arguments during the colonial era in Korea, now become the 'pride' of the Park regime. A modified form of the colonial government: economy-oriented, militarily-effective, de-politicised and an anti-Communist control that was Japan's precise method for the 'advance' of colonial Korea, had re-emerged. Park made more of centralised planning with a series of five-year economic development plans, although his term for presidential office was only for four-years. It is astonishing that between 1961 and 1971, Korea's real GNP increased by an annual average of 8.7%, and exports rose more than 36% per year in real terms. In addition, GNP growth between 1972 and 1978 averaged 10.8% per annum, and the yearly growth rate from 1976 to 1978 reached 11.2%. What is more, South Korea's real national income per person grew by 240% between 1961 and 1978, thus expanding the size of the middle class.
However, this growth came at the expense of high inflation. Wholesale prices rose swiftly by almost 18% annually from 1972 to 1979, compared to about 12% between 1962 and 1971. During this period, the economic gap between the poor and rich widened. In the case of income distribution the income of the lowest 30% of workers' constituted 19.3% of the entire national income in 1965, but dropped to 16.9% in 1975, and dropped even further to 16.1% in 1980. This figure shows that under Park's regime, comparatively speaking the poor became poorer, despite the nation's 'economic prosperity'.
The ferocious anti-Communist pose was excused by the menace of an attack from the north or northern-inspired insurrection. Anti-Communism was the raison d'être of the Park regime. Any sort of anti-Park or anti-government action, along with critical speech and writing, was seen as "sympathising with Communism or Communists" or "helping anti-government groups" hence constituting an illegal act.
Suspending civil rights, Park's rule was suspicious of civilian politics in general and opposed parliamentary democracy in particular. Using this political machine, in 1967 Park was re-elected to his second term of presidency, and the DRP obtained a large majority of the seats in the National Assembly. But the opposition New Democratic Party and students claimed electoral fraud. Consequently the opposition party refused to take their seats in the National Assembly for several months, and 31 universities and 136 high schools closed for some time, owing to the massive anti-Park demonstrations.
During his second term, Park came up against the constitutional stipulation that restricted the president to two continuous four-year terms. In spite of huge political upheaval and protests by the opposition and students, DRP members within the Assembly approved an amendment that allowed the incumbent president to be eligible for three continuous four-year terms.
In 1971, in his third presidential election, Park narrowly beat Kim Daejung (Kim Taejung: 1923- ) at the national level, yet lost to him in urban regions by 44.9% to Kim's 51.4%. The DRP Assembly domination was also reduced to its lowest level. Feeling aggrieved, Park declared a state of 'national emergency' using the excuse of "dangerous uncertainties in the international situation", that is the mutual international recognition between the People's Republic of China and the United States: In October 1971 the United Nations General Assembly voted to support the seating of the People's Republic of China in that world organisation in place of the Republic of China (Taiwan), South Korea's partner. Park proclaimed martial law.
But in this time of "national and international threats" the New York Times, in an editorial rather indicated that: "Outside observers, including the State Department and the American Embassy in Seoul could detect no sign of these 'threats', and that the external threat Mr Park evidently fears is not military attacks but just the opposite - détente."
Because of the worrying "signs of détente", at the end of 1971 Park declared a Yusin (revitalisation) Constitution in order, he claimed, to safeguard national security. The Yusin (the same word used in Japan for the Meiji 'Restoration') Constitution gave Park greatly increased powers, enabling him to issue an emergency mandate and rule by decree, and to form the National Conference for Unification (NCU) as a rubber stamp electoral college.
By dissolving the National Assembly and arresting opposition politicians, Park expanded his presidential domination. His control of a weakened Assembly was secured by the presidential appointment of one-third of its members. Rigorous emergency measures stifled student activities, protests, or any criticism. Eight students were put to death on trumped-up charges in the so-called Minch'ong Hangnyon [Democratic Young-Student Federation] Incident. The Yusin Constitution even permitted the re-election of the president for a limitless number of six-year terms. Thus the Yusin Constitution was a political contrivance to guarantee that Park could have an unlimited number of terms in office and concentrated power in his hands. At the same time, Park began to emphasise the Confucian concept of the virtue of loyalty to the ruler and filial piety.
Park sent his henchmen to Tokyo in August 1973 and forcibly kidnapped and dragged back to Seoul former presidential candidate and influential opposition politician Kim Daejung from his hotel room. This incident of the abduction produced sharp friction between the Park regime and the public, as well as the opposition party. Feeling insecure because of public and opposition party discontent, on January 8, 1974, Park declared presidential 'emergency measures' No.1 and No.2 in order to cope with a "potentially serious threat to the security of the state and public safety". The former made it a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years for anyone to criticise the Yusin Constitution or promote its amendment. The declaration of the two mandates was briefly followed by the arrests of the leaders of the civil rights movement.
Using emergency powers, Park outlawed political discussion and prevented further challenges from any civilians or politicians. Nevertheless, throughout 1974 some Korean Christians organised prayer gatherings and peace marches against Park's dictatorial pressure. At last in 1975, Park declared 'emergency measure' No.9, which made criticism of Park himself, or of the measure itself, a criminal act.
The years 1978-1979 saw rising protests opposing Park's quest for a fourth term and his maintenance of National Assembly control with a minority of constituents. Additionally, inflation, economic problems in certain industries, and impatience with political repression provoked social unrest.
Finally, in 1979, fearing Kim Daejung's political influence, Park sentenced Kim to death on a fabricated accusation of Communism. It was only foreign pressure, especially American, which prevented Park from carrying out the death sentence. What is more, in October 1979, Park expelled Kim Youngsam the opposition party leader from the National Assembly, following which the Park regime relentlessly suppressed civil protests and riots in Pusan and Masan by declaring a further period of martial law. The subsequent week, in the midst of tense circumstances, Park was shot and killed by Kim Chaegyu (1926-1980), Chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). This was the first time in the history of Korea that its presidency had ended in such a shocking way.
After Park's assassination, surrounded by expectations for democracy and abundant public discussion, the prime minister, Ch'oe Kyuha (1919- ), became acting president. There was high optimism for democracy in the South Korean political climate. As early as March 1980, full rights of citizenship were given to 687 political prisoners who had been released following the death of Park. Thus the first impression was that a democratisation programme was about to be set in operation, but the state soon fell into autocratic military control once more.
On December 12, 1979, General Chun Doohwan (Chon Tuhwan), head of the Army's Defence Security Command, a Park follower and investigator of the Park murder, conducted a palace coup. Chun arrested the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, the martial law commander, and other generals on charges of collaboration in Park's assassination, and of 'corruption'. Many generals older than or of superior rank to Chun were removed from the army. Under the camouflage of civilian government, the military was revived as the 'leading' political force in South Korea, with Chun as its hidden commander.
In May 1980, however, after nation-wide student demonstrations calling for democracy, Chun took total control over the government. He extended martial law throughout the country, banned all political activity, incarcerated leading politicians and civil rights activists and closed all universities throughout South Korea. Resistance movements against Chun's military coup included a student-led uprising that held the city of Kwangju for a week, until paratroopers retook the city through a bloody massacre. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are believed to have been killed, further thousands being imprisoned in the suppression in the aftermath of the uprising.
Thus the martial law command under the control of General Chun became the actual power of government, dismissing 86 professors, 8,000 government employees, 200 executive officers, and 711 news staff. In many cases this was accomplished by forced mergers and the closing of 172 journals, and 617 publishing companies.
In August 1980 Chun resigned his military commission in order to become president. Chun suppressed all political activities by arresting prominent political leaders, human rights activists, academics and journalists. Subsequently, in September, former presidential candidate Kim Daejung again received the death sentence from Chun. The death sentence judgement on Kim triggered world-wide protests. Eventually, due to international pressure, Chun was unable to carry out the death sentence. Chun curbed the mass media. The press and media were manipulated by the Basic Press Law of December 1980, which empowered the state to seize the materials of publications and broadcasting programmes.
Under the Chun regime, the South Korean economy continued to grow rapidly, and the nation emerged as one of the foremost shipbuilders and principal producers and traders in mechanical products and consumer electronics. From 1980 to 1986 real national income grew by 55%, an average rate of 7.5% per annum. However, many labourers were embittered by poor salaries, arduous working environments, and the refusal of their right to be represented by worker-controlled trade unions, whereas a few chaebol (conglomerates) made enormous profits for their companies. Therefore national growth coincided with rising public discontent. Consequently, even the urban middle classes, businessmen, housewives and white collar workers, began to demand political improvements and the end to military dominated control of the government.
The inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981 and prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro in 1982 helped to reinforce Chun and his military alliance in South Korea. Chun was the first foreign leader invited to the White House to meet the new president. During their interview Reagan told Chun: "Our special bond of friendship is as strong today as it was twenty years ago". Furthermore, in 1984 Chun became the first South Korean president to visit Japan as a state guest.
From the end of 1984 through to 1985 and the first half of 1986, protests surged to over three hundred a year with upwards of one hundred thousand students taking part. Ordinary citizens and even the newly emerged middle class (so-called white collar demonstrators) resisted persistent political repression and corruption and remained unforgiving of the Kwangju mass murders, while Chun increased the military budget.
The Chun regime abused its power in order to create stronger government control, benefiting the ruling party and those persons and companies which supported it. Therefore the Chun regime was considered by the public as a hotbed of law-breakers. The suspicious financial transactions of Chun's wife, brother, brother-in-law, father-in-law and other relatives were common knowledge. Accordingly the democratic desires of the public grew, with numerous student and labour agitations, as the call for democratic reform grew.
The police placed 270 opposition politicians under house arrest in an attempt to deter a mass rally in front of the City Hall plaza in Seoul, and the headquarters of the opposition party was forcibly shut down. In this repressive political climate, a Seoul National University student was killed whilst undergoing police torture (on 14 January, 1987). On 13 April, Chun forbade all debates on constitutional revision, which meant no direct presidential election. Consequently stormy anti-Chun demonstrations began and set off a surge of massive protests not only in Seoul but also in other major cities whilst labour strikes continued ceaselessly.
Hundreds of Christians took part in hunger strikes, demanding Chun's resignation, while professors of various universities and many lawyers circulated political statements criticising Chun's policy. Facing these massive nation-wide protests, Chun considered mobilising military intervention as he had done in May 1980. But this time, on account of the tremendous anti-American feeling amongst the Korean populace and the rising international attention being given to Korean political affairs, the United States decided not to support Chun's idea of military intervention. On June 29 1987, Roh Taewoo (No T'aeu: 1932- ), Chun's chosen successor as president, announced his acceptance of a direct presidential election, which was followed by further political liberalisation, such as release of political prisoners and relaxing of censorship of the press. Consequently Chun had no option but to relinquish his power.
For South Korea, 1987 was a political watershed, a year in which its citizens achieved enhanced democratic rights. Presidential elections took place on 16 December. With the rift between the two foremost opposition leaders, Kim Daejung and Kim Youngsam, the ruling party candidate Roh Taewoo easily won in the presidential election, garnering 35.9% of the total vote.
Although Roh was a former general and close associate of Chun, his inauguration, at least in a legal sense, marked the end of dictatorial rule and the transition to democracy in South Korea. Characteristically, one cannot define the Roh government as a military regime, or as a civilian one. Roh's government was a transitional one.
1.5. Summary Table of Contents