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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 205

what their voters demand.

Undoubtedly, such undemocratic behavior by those who supply leadership in the democratic political marketplace has prevented progress in Korea’s march toward liberal democracy. The country’s failure to become a high-quality liberal democracy, however, involves much more than an inadequate supply from political leaders and institutions. It also has a great deal to do with what the people demand from those leaders and institutions.25 As Amartya Sen26 notes, “In a democracy, people tend to get what they demand, and more crucially, do not typically get what they do not demand.”For a satisfactory account of Korean democratization, therefore, we need to consider the contours and dynamics of demand for liberal democracy from the mass public.

How strongly do the Korean people demand the building of a liberal democracy in their country? To find out, we consider whether and how much they prefer the liberal democratic method to the authoritarian one. We assume that a preference for the former indicates a demand for liberal democracy. So, how strongly do the Korean people endorse the principles of liberal democracy over those of an authoritarian government? To address these questions, the EAB asked three pairs of questions, each of which deals with a different aspect of liberal democratic governance. One pair deals with the rule of law, one with the separation of powers, and one with the values of political freedom and rights.27

More than three-quarters (77%) expressed opposition to the arbitrary use of power by the government, disagreeing with the statement,“ When the country is facing a difficult situation, it is all right for the government to disregard the law in order to deal with the situation.”An equally large majority (77%) also expressed opposition to the age-old illiberal practice of justifying illegal means with favorable ends. They disagreed with the statement, “The most important thing for a political leader is to accomplish his goals even if he has to ignore the established procedure.”Considering these responses together, reveals a substantial majority (63%) of Korean voters who are fully committed to the liberal constitutionalism of a Rechtsstaat, a law-bound state.28

By sharp contrast, a substantial majority (61%) is not fully committed to the liberal principle of separating executive and non-executive powers and maintaining checks and balances among those powers. About two-thirds (69%)

  25 Bhagwati, 1995; Rose et al., 1998.
26 Sen, 1995: 156.
27 Diamond, 1999: chap.1; Zakaria, 2003: chap. 1.
28 O’Donnell, 1996;1999.
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