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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 195

out, voters should be allowed to express their views freely. They should also be allowed to form and join organizations. How much freedom do ordinary Koreans experience when they want to talk about politics and form groups or associations for their personal or communal interests? Answers to these questions reveal the extent to which Koreans live in freedom from the state.

On freedom of expression, the 2003 EAB asked, “To what extent do you think people like you are free to express their political opinion?”One-fifth (20%) replied “very free,”and an additional three-fifths (61%) replied “somewhat free.”When these two positive responses are considered together, it becomes clear that a large majority (81%) feels quite free to express political views. Yet a relatively small minority feels fully free to do so. On the freedom of association, the EAB asked“, To what extent do you think people like you are free to join the group they would like to join?”Once again, about one-fifth (19%) replied“ very free,”while three-fifths (62%) replied “somewhat free.”As in the case of freedom of expression, it is a small minority who feels fully free to form an organization, although a large majority feels at least somewhat free to do so.

To measure the overall level of political freedom the Korean people experience, we combined responses to both questions and constructed a 7-point index ranging from a low of 1 to a high of 7. On this index, a score of 1 indicates an absence of freedom and a score of 7 indicates being fully free. Table 6 reports the mean score on this index and the percentages placed in each of its seven values. According to the mean, the average person in Korea experiences 5 out of 7 degrees of political freedom. This score is one degree above the midpoint (4) of the scale but two degrees below the score indicating full freedom. According to the percentages reported in the table, nearly half (47%) the Korean population scored 5, a score well below an indication of full freedom. About one-tenth (10%) scored the highest score of 7 on the index. From these findings, it is apparent that the Korean people think of themselves as belonging to a partially free nation. A full sense of freedom has yet to form within these people.

Political Equality

The current Constitution of the Sixth Republic of Korea provides that as a citizen of a democratic state every Korean is entitled to equal treatment by the government. Does the government treat its citizens equally as prescribed in the constitution and other legislation? This section examines the extent to which ordinary Koreans think the government treats them equally.

The EAB survey asked a pair of questions addressing this equality. First,

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