South Korea has a multi-party system. The Constitution of the Republic of Korea, in Article 8, defines the important role and function political parties play in the Republic: “Political parties may be organized freely and multiple parties shall be allowed. The objectives, organization and activities of a political party shall be democratic. Political parties shall have an organization conducive to participating in the process of forming the people’s political opinions.”
The Constitution also declares that “political parties shall be protected by the government according to the provisions of relevant laws.” The most important law enacted by the Constitutional mandate is the Political Party Law. The law states that by virtue of being protected in its activities and organizational process, the political parties shall contribute to the development of sound democratic politics. This provision stresses freedom of political activities.
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 number of relatives, acquaintances, schoolmates and townsfolk. The Liberal Party, founded in 1951, was the first to establish a nationwide organization. The Democratic Party, the Democratic Republican Party (DRP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) appeared later, and like the Liberal Party, it also organized local branches around the country.
Korean political parties opposing the government parties were subject to constant persecution by successive military governments which first came into power during the coup d’etat of 1961, led by General Park Chung Hee. For this reason, party politics existed only in name. Typical of the government’s abuse was the dissolution of political parties by Park Chung Hee in 1961 and the banning of political activities imposed on party members by the Gen. Chun Doo Hwan Administration in 1980.
Korean political parties have largely been organized around a particular leader instead of a party platform or policies. Since each party is operating around a political boss, political parties were not able to represent all sectors of the society despite their claims to the contrary. In addition, South Korean party leaders still manipulate their party organizations by merging, splitting, and changing their parties to win the forthcoming elections.
Regionalism has been predominant in South Korean party politics over the past 25 years since the country’s democratization in 1987. Major parties’ support base is regional: New Frontier Party’s support base is Youngnam region (southeastern part), while Democratic United Party’s support base is Honam region(the country’s southwestern part)
Party Formation. This fourth point is an additional peril of the current system, which is, however, not much discussed in the Korean debate. 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-centred electoral system, whereas a proportional system would be more party-centred. 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 on 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:
A political party is composed of a central political party located in the capital city and Si/Do parties located in Si/Do districts.
Establishment of Political Party:
Establishing a political party requires a central political party to be registered with the National Election Commission after it has formed more than 5 Si/Do parties. Each Si/Do party shall have a thousand or more members registered as residents in the corresponding Si/Do districts.
Major political parties
- Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party)(Saenuri-dang) is the new name, as of February 2012 of the Grand National Party ( GNP) (Hannara-dang)
- Justice Party [CHEON Ho-sun]
- Liberty Forward Party or LFP (merged with NFP in October 2012)
- New Politics Alliance for Diplomacy or NPAD [KIM Han-gil and AHN Cheol-soo] (merger of the Democratic Party or DP (formerly DUP) [Kim Han-gil] and the New Political Vision Party or NPVP [AHN Cheol-soo] in March 2014)
- Progressive Justice Party or PJP [ROH Hoe-chan and CHO Joon-ho]
- Unified Progressive Party or UPP [LEE Jung-hee]
The conservative Saenuri Party and the more liberal Democrats(NPAD) are the dominant forces of South Korean politics. The socialist UPP is aligned with labour unions and farmers groups. But UPP was torn into two parties after 2012 election, and 6 of 13 MPs of UPP formed the Justice Party.
Electoral Politics in South Korea, Aurel Croissant, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/01361008.pdf