South Korea Government and Politics

State and politics

South Korea Country Flag

Reference: South Korea Flag Meaning

After being governed by extra-military military regimes for just over a quarter of a century, South Korea has developed into a stable democracy and one of Asia’s richest countries according to


Since the adoption of South Korea’s first constitution on July 17, 1948, seven major constitutional revisions have been carried out. The revisions from the period 1962-87 have clearly reflected the power struggle between the president and parliament. During this period, the trend was towards increasing central government and an increasingly authoritarian presidential power. The 1987 Constitution marked a clear violation of this development. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of KR and its meanings of South Korea.

The most important changes in the 1987 Constitution include that the President is elected in direct and general elections and that the term of office is limited to a period of five years. Previously, the president was indirectly elected by an electoral assembly. Furthermore, the president’s previous opportunities to exercise extraordinary powers of power have been severed and his right to dissolve Parliament abolished. The president is the head of state and supreme responsible for the executive power. He appoints the Prime Minister and on his recommendation other members of the Cabinet, which is really only an advisory assembly, since the decisions are formally made by the President. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The Parliament has 300 members, of whom 253 are elected by majority vote in one-person constituencies and the remaining 47 proportionally by the parties that won five seats or more in the general elections. The idea behind this arrangement is to counter tendencies to regionalism through the members appointed by the parties. The term of office is four years.

The party lists of candidates for the proportionally appointed mandate shall consist of women to 50 percent. The parties are also recommended that 30 percent of constituencies should have a female candidate. After the 2020 election, 57 of a total of 300 members (19 percent) were women.


Since its inception in 1948, South Korea has exhibited a party-political history with many and varied casts. Prior to the 1987 presidential election, the Democratic Justice Party presidential candidate, Roh Tae Woo, had accepted the opposition’s demand for direct presidential elections and amnesty for political prisoners. Split between opposition leaders Kim Yong Sam and Kim Dae Jung gave Roh a clear victory.

The opposition gained a majority in parliament after the 1988 elections, but in 1990 Kim Yong Sam and Kim Jong Pil merged their parties with the ruling party, thereby creating the new Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). his closest rival Kim Dae Jung, who was a prominent regime critic during the authoritarian Park Chung Hee’s time in power and who now left politics.

Kim Yong Sam’s administration was characterized by the maintenance of democratic principles, genuine civilian rule and powerful anti-corruption measures. However, it ended in severe headwinds when former President Roh Tae Woo publicly admitted in 1995 that he had provided financial support to political parties during his presidential term. Kim Jong Pil left the DLP, political scandals plagued the party and expected reforms to wait.

In 1997, the Asian financial crisis began. It shook South Korea’s economic stability and further weakened Kim Yong Sam’s administration. Kim Dae Jung took advantage of the political situation to come back to politics. Thanks to an alliance with Kim Jong Pil, he won a barely rolling victory in December 1997 and installed as president in 1998. During 1998-99, the economy was stabilized with the support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In parliament, however, Kim Dae Jung’s position was weak.

During his term in office, Kim Dae Jung sought to achieve a close relationship with North Korea through the so-called Sunshine Policy, and in 2000, as the first South Korean president, he made an official state visit to North Korea. In the 2002 presidential election, Roh Moo Hyun prevailed, which continued the sunshine policy and likewise made a state visit to North Korea. Since Lee Myung Bak (born 1941) in 2007 succeeded Roh Moo Hyun in the presidential post, the sunshine policy has been re-examined, to the detriment of North Korea-South Korea relations.

In the 2012 presidential election, Park Geun Hye, daughter of Park Chung Hee, won. She thus became the country’s first female president. She took office in February 2013 and immediately devoted considerable energy to the deteriorating relations with North Korea, which conducted a third nuclear test that month, and whose new leader Kim Jong Un stepped up confrontational and threatening foreign policy rhetoric (see further Korea issue).

The 2016 parliamentary election saw a major defeat for President Park Geun Hye’s conservative party Saenuri (to the 2012 Great National Party and since 2020 the United Future Party), which held a dominant position during the 2000s. The position as Parliament’s largest party was taken over by the Democratic Party (also called Minjoo).

In 2016, an investigation was launched by Park on the grounds of a corruption scandal where the president, among other things, was suspected of giving reports and speeches to a private contact. Extensive demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president were held regularly in the fall of 2016. In early December 2016, South Korea’s parliament decided to bring Park Geun Hye to court. This happened in March 2017 and the Constitutional Court voted to dismiss her with immediate effect. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn (born 1957) took over the presidency until the May 2017 election, when the Democratic Party’s Moon Jae In won and swore in as president.

The April 2020 parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Democratic Party, a sign that many were happy with how the government and President Moon Jae In handled the ongoing corona epidemic. With 163 out of 300 seats, the ruling party gained its own majority, which was 180, including the seats taken by the support party Together’s citizens.


The legal system in South Korea is designed according to Western European continental role models and is mainly codified, including civil law and trade law. The judicial system consists mainly of district courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court, to which are also special military courts and family courts. However, due to Confucianism’s strong position, the legal system plays a limited role in the everyday life of the population. The death penalty still remains in the legislation but is de facto considered abolished; the last execution took place in 1997.

Heads of State


1948-60 Syngman Rhee
1960-62 Yun Po Sun
1962-79 Park Chung Hee
1979-80 Choi Kyu Hah
1980-88 Chun Doo Hwan
1988-93 Raw Tae Woo
1993-98 Kim Yong Sam
1998-2003 Kim Dae Jung
2003-08 Raw Moo Hyun
2008-12 Lee Myung Bak
2012-17 Park Geun Hye
2017- Moon Jae In

South Korea Head of Government

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