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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 199

To measure the overall level of rule by law among civil servants, or officials who are not elected, we combined responses to the two questions on a 7- point index of perceptions about law-abiding behavior. We assume that its level is inversely related to perceived corruption. On this index, the lowest score of 1 attributes a state of lawlessness among officials who ignore the rules. The highest score of 7 means a state of lawfulness where almost every official follows the rules. The mean on this index is 3.9, very close to its midpoint of 4.0. Less than two-fifths (37%) have scores below the median and more than two-fifths (44%) are above it. This finding indicates that public officials, unlike elected politicians and their associates, appear to be more law-abiding than law-breaking.


Only in democracies can voters vote against incumbents and throw out rascals. This practice enables the voters to keep elected officials accountable for their actions.23 To hold officials accountable to voters, the latter should be made fully informed about what the former do. To what extent do the Korean people think their political leaders are accountable to ordinary voters like themselves through voter awareness of leaders’ actions? To estimate the level of such vertical accountability, the 2003 EAB survey asked a pair of questions, one on governmental effort to cover up illegal and corrupt practices and the other on the extent to which the government allows the public to see what its various agencies do. The selection of these two items reflects the assumption that any government cover-up of such practices detracts from accountability while transparency in governmental performance contributes to it.

When asked about the cover-up of illegal and corrupt practices, a majority replied that the government does so“ always”(12%) or“ very often”(42%). A plurality (43%) said “sometimes,”and a negligible minority (4%) said “rarely.” In Korean political circles, the cover-up of bad practices appears to be commonplace, not a rare phenomenon. When asked about the openness of government agencies to the public, only about one-third of Koreans perceived the extent of openness as “a lot”(2%) or “somewhat”(30%). More than two-thirds, on the other hand, said that government agencies were not much open to the public (60%) or not at all open to it (8%). While political leaders of the ruling party attempt to cover up their illegal actions, government agencies try to keep the public from seeing what goes on in those agencies. Given these practices, one concludes that elected officials seek to avoid accountability to the electorate.

When responses to the two questions are considered together, it . . . . . /continued

  23. Powell Jr., 2000: 47.  
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