South Korea has a multi-party system. Article 8 of its Constitution states that “political parties may be organized freely and multiple parties shall be allowed”. Moreover, it establishes an obligation for the State to protect political parties, which “shall have an organization conducive to participating in the process of forming the people’s political opinions.”
The most important law enacted by the Constitutional mandate is the Political Parties Act, first adopted in 1962. It relates to the organization and activities of parties, including the establishment of a party, the merger of political parties, admissions and withdrawals from political parties, the operation of political parties, guaranteeing political parties activities, and the dissolving of political parties
Modern political parties based on democratic principles were first introduced to Korea only after it was liberated from the Japanese colonial government in 1945. Initially, the political parties were nothing but groups of small numbers of relatives, acquaintances, schoolmates and townsfolk. The Liberal Party, founded in 1951, was the first to establish a nationwide organization. Later on, the Democratic Party, the Democratic Republican Party (DRP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) were also founded. Since the democratization in 1987, most of the political parties in South Korea have strong regional influences For instance, the New Frontier Party’s support base is the Youngnam region (southeastern part), while Democratic United Party’s support base is Honam region (the country’s southwestern part).
Since the 5th reform of the Constitution in 1962, the freedom to establish political parties has been granted. The state also has the mandate to protect political parties and their activities. The current electoral system hampers the development of stable party organizations. Instead it supports tendencies toward a short-lived, volatile party system, characterized by frequent mergers, party splits, and re-foundings of party organizations, continuous re-labelling of parties and a lack of party institutionalization.
The current system is a candidate-centered electoral system, with most seats being obtained through plurality voting instead of proportional representation. Beyond this reform step, some minor reforms are conceivable. First, those who switch party affiliations should automatically lose their parliamentary seats. Such a provision may violate the freedom of a parliamentary mandate but it provides an effective negative incentive against ‘party hopping’ simply for opportunistic and economic reasons. Second, party law should guarantee more rights to party organizations at the provincial level, especially in the case of selecting candidates. The democratic quality of intra-party decision-making could thereby be improved.
Composition of Political Party:
According to the Political Parties Act, the political parties have to be composed of a central political party located in the capital city and Si/Do parties located or have offices in Si/Do districts. The parties also have to establish a system for members to pay their membership fees.
Establishment of Political Party
To establish a political party, it is required for a central political party to be registered with the National Election Commission (NEC). Moreover, the party requires to have five or more Si/Do party offices and more than 1,000 party members as the residents in the relevant region before they register at the NEC. The registered political parties also have to submit the reports on the number of their members and their major activities to the NEC every year. In a political party organization, there are bodies under the organization such as the Representative Body (reflects the membership), Executive Body, General Assembly, Budget Audit Committee and Policy Research Institute.
Major Political Parties After the 21st National Assembly Elections
Two political parties won the majority of the seats during the 21st National Assembly Election (held in 2020). It includes the Democratic Party of Korea or “Minjoo” (center-left) with 163 seats from constituencies (plus 17 proportional representation seats for its satellite “Platform” party), and the United Future Party (right-wing or conservative) which won 84 seats of constituencies (plus 19 proportional representation seats for its affiliated Future Korea Party). These two coalitions amount together to 283 seats in a Parliament of 300.
Other parties present in Parliament include: the Justice Party (1 constituency seat and 5 party-list seats), the People’s Party (3 party-list seats), the Open Democratic Party (3 party-list seats) as well as 5 independent MPs.