Wednesday, March 31, 2004

THE DAWNING OF PLURALISM IN SOUTH KOREA? David Scofield handicaps the fast approaching ROK legislative elections. He presents a good overview of the major players and concludes that since no single party is likely to emerge from the elections with a clear majority, this
foreshadows a plurality within South Korea's legislative assembly that will, if nothing else, ensure that no group of any political stripe will be able to hijack the national agenda for narrow political interests. Critics say a zero-sum, all-or-nothing approach has dominated and become a hallmark of political affairs, to the detriment of an authentic and inclusive political process involving negotiation and compromise.

As South Korea's democracy and democratic values take further root (the first democratic elections were held in 1987), the psychology of pluralism and inclusion must come to the fore if the nation's elected representatives are to steer the country forward, ensuring the sort of future that many of Korea's older citizens only thought possible under the authoritarianism of the past.
This outcome is certainly possible but I have two concerns. First is the fact that in many democratic polities, political fragmentation and the lack of a strong majority ruling party leads to paralysis and an inordinate amount of power flowing to small splinter groups who can make or break the power of larger coalitions (ultra-orthodox factions in Israel's Knesset for example). Second is that I think it is entirely possible that once the dust settles we will see another round of defections and the formation of still newer parties (as happened in 1990 with the DLP). There are signs that South Korean political parties are beginning to take on identifiable ideologies and platforms but some (OOP in particular) are ambiguous enough to jump either way depending on which way the wind is blowing.

One other observation: Scofield dismisses the possibility of Park Geun-hye making a presidential run:
While many of South Korea's older conservatives support her name, it is also unlikely these same senior traditional supporters would cast their lot in with a female presidential candidate in the future.
I wouldn't be so sure. Conservative constituencies in other countries have elected women who have clear family ties to famous men (Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Aung Sang Suu Kyi etc.) even when they would not generally be expected to favor a female candidate.

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