Democracy Disenchanted and Autocracy Glamorized in Korea

Doowon Suh


Economic prosperity and equitable economic distribution under authoritarian political repression began to be upended in Korea in 1987: democratic freedom replaced autarchy with a gradual economic slowdown. The financial crisis in 1997 further increased poverty and job insecurity. Post-crisis government welfare reform policies were too cumbersome to prevent worsening poverty and polarization, and a growing share of the lower class was left unprotected and remained social outcasts. The inability of the democratic regime to deal with the economic recession and the financial crisis raised the level of public discontent with the democratic government’s performance, reducing public support for democracy. The dwindling legitimacy of democracy obviously imperiled its consolidation and sustainability. Though still devoted to democracy in principle, Koreans were deeply disillusioned with it in practice and worryingly attracted to a non-democratic mode of governance. Rising disgruntlement led to nostalgia for Park Chung Hee’s authoritarian leadership. The coexistence and parallel adoption of democratic principles and of attraction to authoritarian practice not only slowed democratic consolidation but also marred democratic legitimacy.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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