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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 203

The variable that does affect greatly perceptions of liberal democratic political practices is region of residence. In four out of the five properties reported in Table 8, regional differences are very large; some of these differences more than double the figures for one of the three regions in the comparisons. In recognizing equal treatment before the law, residents of Cholla and Kyongsang provinces scored, respectively, 42 and 5 percent. In recognizing the observance of laws in the presidential office and the National Assembly, residents of the former scored 42 percent, while those of the latter scored only 6 percent. In other words, residents of Cholla, which is President Kim Dae Jung’s home base, see the performance of Korean democracy in these two domains over seven times more positively than those of Kyongsang provinces, the home base of former military rulers Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan. According to the figures listed in the last column of Table 8, moreover, Cholla residents are, on the whole, experiencing the virtues of liberal democratic politics nearly two times as much as Kyongsang residents (1.2 versus 2.2).

There is little doubt that the practice of region-based discrimination remains a very serious issue in Korea today. As their authoritarian predecessors did in the past, three democratically elected presidents have failed to stop favoritism toward their home regions and the people whose voting support was necessary to their victories. These failings substantially hindered the building of a liberal democratic political system. For Korea to become a fully liberal democracy, it must promote political equality among citizens, rule of law among political leaders, accountability to the people and responsibility to citizen desires. In addition, the country has to promote these four properties of liberal democracy such that they are evenly perceived across its regions.

Popular Demand for Liberal Democracy

In the current wave of global democratization, Korea received recognition as one of the most successful democratic transitions.24 Why has it failed to transform its electoral democracy into a high-quality liberal democracy? One may be tempted to answer this question solely from the perspective of political leaders and institutions, which have failed to supply the valued properties of liberal democracy. After all, as we discussed above, political leaders and government agencies in Korea all-too-often engaged in illegal and corrupt practices and then attempted to cover up those practices. According to the people, the leaders and agencies are neither accountable for their actions nor responsive to

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