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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 192

The percentages belonging to these types vary a great deal from less than one percent to more than 50 percent. In brief, it is clear that the Korean people as a whole refused to rate the current regime as a high-quality democracy featuring an advanced level of democratic development and a high degree of performance satisfaction. Of the entire sample of 1,500, only one person judged Korean democracy as a democracy of high quality. More than half the sample (51%), on the other hand, judged it as a low-quality democracy featuring a limited level of democratic development and an equally limited level of performance satisfaction. In the eyes of the Korean people, their democracy is limited not only in removing the residues of the authoritarian past but also in meeting the current demands of the citizenry. This finding that Korea remains a low-quality democracy even after fifteen years of democratic rule is a notable qualitative feature of Korean democracy.

Why is it that a majority of the Korean people perceives its regime as a low-quality democracy? To explore this question, we selected another pair of EAB survey questions, both of which were derived from the two general principles of democratic governance: government by the people and for the people. The questions were: “Under the Kim Dae Jung presidency, do you think our country has been governed, by and large, by the will of ordinary people or ruled by a powerful few?”and “Do you think the Kim Dae Jung government has worked for the entire country or some of its regions or classes?”Less than twofifths gave democratic responses to each of these questions (36% to the first question and 39% to the second one). When responses to both questions are considered together, about one-quarter (27%) perceives that the current regime fulfills both principles of democratic governance. Nearly two times as many (52%), on the other hand, say that the current regime works for neither the will of the people nor for their welfare. The regime’s failure to practice these two principles of democratic governance signals that the current regime functions as a low-quality democracy.

The Quality of Electoral Democracy

No country qualifies as a democracy unless it regularly holds free, fair, and competitive elections to choose political leaders. Of all the democratic elections held in Korea, the presidential election is regarded as the most important because the current democratic regime is constitutionally built on the principles of presidential democracy. To assess the quality of electoral democracy in Korea, therefore, we decided to focus on the presidential elections held most recently in . . . . . /continued

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