ASIA-PACIFIC CENTER FOR SECURITY STUDIES HONOLULU HI HONOLULU United States
Party politics in the Republic of Korea is in a state of dynamic evolution. Its future incarnations may be somewhat murky, and if the Republic has markedly advanced in instituting democratic processes, the past heritage of political parties within that context has been depressing and opaque. Present stresses are increasingly evident. Korean political parties have been the weakest link in the democratic process. How they will evolve will likely be distinctly Korean -- an amalgam of tradition and modernity with foreign models less relevant to the Korean scene than some Korean concepts of power and authority. The December 2002 presidential election and the preceding local elections of that year, together with the events leading up to them, have been important milestones in this process. The attempted impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and the National Assembly elections of April 15, 2004, have exacerbated tendencies already evident. But these are milestones along abroad through uncharted territory without maps. The process, whatever its destination, cannot help but affect the Korean-American alliance and relations between these two states, as well as South-North relations. This period may be viewed as a transitional one between a traditional system that has its most obvious derivation in the classic, often Confucian, concepts of and attitudes toward power and the role of the chief executive of the state, and that of a modernizing, pluralistic society with the freedom to express itself in ideological terms. This mix makes decision-making far more complex but certainly more democratic. To understand the present we need to first consider the past. In spite of seventeen elections to the National Assembly since the founding of the Republic, party politics in Korea may be considered a misnomer.