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
“How fairly or unfairly do you think laws are enforced on someone like yourself these days?”To this question, less than a half replied “very fairly”(2%) or “somewhat fairly”(40%). About three-fifths (52%) said they had been treated “not much fairly”(52%) or“ not at all fairly”(7%). Most surprising is the finding that those who replied“ very fairly”constituted only 2 percent of the entire sample. In addition, the same survey asked,“ To what extent was the Kim Dae Jung government regionally biased in treating people?”To this question, nearly three-quarters (72%) replied unfavorably, saying“ a great deal”(18%) or“ somewhat”( 55%). Only 3 percent said that it had not been regionally biased at all.
To measure the overall level of political equality before the law, we considered together responses to the two questions and constructed a 7-point index. On this index, a score of 1 indicates high inequality (highly unfair in law enforcement and a great deal of regional discrimination) and a score of 7 means high equality (very fair in law enforcement and very little of regional discrimination). The combined ratings averaged 3.5, a score below the midpoint of the scale, indicating that Koreans perceive that their government treats them less than equally. According to the percentages reported in Table 6, those who believe that inequality of treatment exceeds equal treatment are nearly four times more numerous than those who believe that such treatment is equal (51% versus 14%). Among the Korean people, political inequality is much more commonly perceived than political equality.
Such common perceptions of political inequality contrast sharply with those of political freedom. In Table 7, we consider these two essential properties of liberal democracy together and highlight the highly uneven nature of democratic development in Korea. One in ten Koreans (10%) perceives that the current regime provides for political freedom as well as equality, which would lead to a pattern of balanced democratic development. More than six times as many Koreans (64%), on the other hand, perceive that the same regime provides for political freedom but not political equality. In the eyes of a large majority, the democratic progress of the past fifteen years remains partial and highly uneven, lacking any substantial progress in promoting political equality. Unevenness in democratic progress, which has resulted from the failure to promote political equality, is another notable feature of the democratic profile in Korea.
The Rule of Law
In Korea, as in all other new democracies, corruption is the most serious threat to the rule of law. Korean presidents under the authoritarian and democratic . . . . . /continued