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Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies. Vol. 5, No. 2. 2005.
2005 Academy of East Asian Studies. pp. 183-217
Appraising the Quality of Democracy in South Korea:
From the Perspectives of Ordinary Citizens and their Daily Experiences
by Doh Chull Shin, University of Missouri-Columbia &
Chong Min Park, Korea University

Page 184
“If we transplant democratic institutions, will they grow in the new setting
as they did in the old? Or does the quality of a democracy depend on the
quality of its citizens, so that every people gets the government they deserve?
Robert D. Putnam (1993)

South Korea (Korea hereafter) is widely recognized as one of the most successful third-wave democracies in Asia.1 Since it formally began the transition to democracy in 1987, Korea has regularly held free and competitive elections at all levels of its government. Both nationally and locally, citizens choose the heads of the executive branches and the members of the legislatures through regularly scheduled electoral contests. Unlike many countries in the region, moreover, Korea has peacefully transferred power to an opposition party, the Millennium Democratic Party in Korea. Accordingly, there is little doubt that its current regime fully meets the democratic principle of popular sovereignty featuring free and fair elections, universal adult suffrage, and multiparty competition. 2 Nonetheless, little is known about how well its current regime meets other important principles of liberal democracy and upholds its basic values such as freedom, equality, and justice.

This paper attempts to assess how well Korea’s current regime performs as an electoral democracy and how much progress it has made in becoming a well-functioning liberal democracy. The conceptual focus is upon the notion of liberal democracy. Substantively, freedom and equality are chosen as the basic values of liberal democracy. In addition, we examine the accountability of popularly elected leaders to the electorate, the rule of law, and the responsiveness of political leaders and governmental officials to the mass citizenry as the most fundamental procedural norms of liberal democratic rule. Epistemologically, quality, like beauty, is assumed to lie in the eye of the beholder or the person experiencing the democracy. Methodologically, therefore, the quality of democracy is evaluated with the perspectives of ordinary citizens who experience its practices on a daily basis. Theoretically, the whole citizenry is assumed to be the best judge of democratic political life.

This paper is organized into eight sections. The first section reviews earlier works on the quality of democracy. The second section explicates briefly the notion of liberal democracy and identifies its distinct properties (or qualities). The third section offers citizen assessments of the general (or overall) quality of . . . ./continued

1. Chu et al., 2001; Diamond and plattner, 1998.
2. Diamond and Kim, 2000; Kim, 2003.

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