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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 188

phase, the electoral democracy evolves into a liberal democracy that embodies two other components of democracy, which Guilllermo O’Donnell (1999a) characterizes as liberalism and republicanism. Adding these two components makes holding free, fair, and competitive elections regularly only one of many requirements for successful democratization. In a liberal democracy, a popularly elected government does not hold absolute authority; the institutions of popular representation and other state agencies are subject to the rule of law.15

What constitutes liberal democracy? It refers to a political system that allows, substantively, for political freedom and equal rights and, procedurally, limits the arbitrary use of governmental authorities and powers primarily for the well-being of individual citizens.16 In brief, the fundamental norms of freedom, equality, and limited government serve as the substantive and procedural marks of liberal democracy. On the basis of this conception, we infer the quality of liberal democracy from the degree to which these two norms are satisfied by democratically elected leaders and institutions of popular representation.

The norm of individual freedom demands that citizens be free to think, talk, and act in order to formulate and express, individually and collectively, their views in the political process. Furthermore, the norm of political rights demands that individual citizens be treated equally before the law and that their views be weighed equally in the policymaking process. The norm of limited government, on the other hand, requires that democratically elected political leaders observe the rules prescribed in the constitution and other laws and that they serve in the interests of the citizenry rather than their own. The same procedural norm also requires that elected leaders be accountable especially to citizen voters by making their actions transparent. In short, freedom, equality, the rule of law, accountability, and responsiveness are considered the essential properties or qualities of liberal democracy.

According to this conception, new electoral democracies can be considered to have successfully transformed into liberal democracies when citizens are politically free and equal to each other before the law and when elected leaders are not only law-abiding but also accountable and responsive to the electorate. When new democracies have failed to achieve most of the above five properties, they are considered low-quality liberal democracies. When they have achieved most of them, they are medium-quality liberal democracies. Only when they have achieved all of them, do they become high-quality liberal democracies.

  15. Bobbio, 1989.
16. Diamond, 1999; MacPherson, 1977; Zakaria, 2003.
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