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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 202

an overwhelming majority (88%), Korean democracy embodies no more than two of those properties. To three-fifths (60%), it represents a democratic system embodying none or only one of those properties. To a very small minority (3%), it is a democratic political system embodying more than three properties. In the eyes of the Korean people, therefore, their current democracy is nothing more than a low-quality liberal democracy, lacking most of the highly valued properties of liberal democracy. Beyond political freedom, it should be noted that Korea has failed to make significant progress toward liberal democracy.

The Distribution of Liberal Democratic Qualities

Democracy is not a perfect political system. As Winston Churchill observed more than 50 years ago, it is a system that merely performs better than its alternatives. As an imperfect system or a lesser evil than all other systems, it is incapable of satisfying every citizen all the time. Under any democratic regime, either advanced or limited, therefore, some citizens are always better served than others. In this regard, we find it important to explore how equally or unequally the perceived qualities of democracy are distributed across the various segments of the Korean population. For this exploration, we identified the population groups in terms of gender, age, educational attainment, family income, and residential region. Table 8 examines the relationships between these five demographic variables and the five liberal democratic properties of freedom, equality, rule by law, accountability, and responsiveness.

A careful scrutiny of Table 8 reveals no systematic pattern of relationships, either positive or negative, between percentages affirming five individual properties of liberal democracy and their aggregates and four of the five demographic variables in the table. Across the categories of gender, age, education, and income, there is not much variation in perceptions about those liberal democratic properties. For example, the total number of the properties the current regime is perceived to embody varies only by 0.2 points, from 1.4 to 1.6, across the 17 different categories identified by these four demographic variables. In the case of education and income, it is not the less educated or the poor who are most critical of the current regime as a liberal democracy. From these findings, it is apparent that Korean democracy, although grossly deficient in liberal qualities, does not produce perceptions of discrimination for or against population subgroups differentiated by gender, age, education, or income. In the eyes of the mass public, there is no noticeable pattern of governmental discrimination against or for women, the elderly, the poor, and the undereducated.

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