(For the period before 1948, see the entry Korea, history of.) In 1948, elections were held in South Korea that brought Syngman Rhee to the presidency of the new republic, proclaimed on August 15 of the same year. This was the first South Korean republic, which represented 12 years of authoritarian rule. In 1950, the invasion of the country by North Korean troops sparked the Korean War, which ended only with the armistice of July 27, 1953 and destroyed 43% of the South Korean industrial park.
According to Petsinclude.com, China demanded that all foreign troops leave the peninsula, but the United States did not agree with the withdrawal of United Nations forces. The socialist countries proposed the restoration of the 38th parallel as a border between the two Koreas, while the United States wanted to fix it in the last lines of the front line. Another problem was that of prisoners of war, many of whom did not want to return to their countries of origin, who demanded their return. After difficult negotiations, it was agreed to fix the border between the Koreas on the battle line, and the United Nations took care of the problem of the returnees.
In 1954, Rhee managed to get the National Assembly to nominate him for life. In March 1960, general discontent forced him to resign and he took refuge in Hawaii.
The second republic lasted only nine months. During this period, Parliament was strengthened, in contrast to the strong presidentialism of the previous one. A military coup overthrew the government on May 16, 1961. The junta that took power dissolved the Assembly and banned all political activities, imposed martial law and created a Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, chaired by General Park Chung-Hee. In November of the following year, constitutional reforms gave the president more power and weakened the Assembly. The constitutional changes were approved by a referendum in December 1962.
In March 1963, Park wanted to extend military rule for four years, but met with great civil resistance and had to schedule elections later in the year. Park himself ran for president for the Democratic Republican Party. The elections that gave rise to the third republic were held on October 15, 1963. Park won by a small margin, also obtaining a majority in Parliament.
In October 1969, after serious unrest, Park resorted to a referendum to reelect himself for a third four-year term. He ended up defeating Kim Dae-jung’s opposition New Democratic Party, although that group had expanded its representation in Parliament. In December 1971, Park declared a state of national emergency, in October of the following year he dissolved the Assembly and suspended the constitution. In December 1972, a new constitutional regime was introduced that provided for the indefinite re-election of presidents for six-year terms.
Park adopted a new political system, known as “Yushin”, that is, revitalization and reform. A National Conference for Unification was established, an organization based on the “collective will of the people”, whose aim was “to obtain the peaceful unification of the country”. The Conference gathered between two thousand and five thousand members elected for a six-year term, with Park as president. This body also elected two thirds of the National Assembly and approved the constitutional amendments proposed by it. In December 1978, Park was re-elected under the new system.
In Park’s management, South Korea achieved impressive economic growth, especially during the third five-year plan, between 1972 and 1976, when gross domestic product grew by 11.2% per year. The volume of South Korean exports has doubled and the construction industry has won contracts abroad. These results were due to a policy of diversifying industrial production and changes in national economic structures. In addition, an income distribution policy was adopted that guaranteed social order.
Park was murdered, according to the official version, on October 26, 1979, by Kim Jae-Kyu, director of the Central Intelligence Agency of Korea. Five guards from the president were also killed in that incident, which has not been clarified. For the first time in the country’s history, a ruler was eliminated in these circumstances.
After Park’s death, Prime Minister Choi Kiu-han assumed the provisional presidency and in December he was appointed to the post. At first, everything indicated that the new president would liberalize the country’s political life. However, power soon returned to the military, who in May 1980 banned political activities, expanded martial law and suppressed outbreaks of civil resistance, such as universities, which were closed.
After a period of disorder, on August 27, 1980 General Chun Doo Hwan was elected provisional president, who promised to annul the Yushin constitution. On October 27 of that year, the fifth republic was inaugurated. The new constitution limited presidential powers in favor of the Assembly and the presidential term was reduced to a single seven-year term. Chun was elected president in February 1981.
The Democratic Party of Justice, supported by the president, became the majority in the National Assembly, with the Democratic and Socialist Democratic parties in opposition. The weakening of the economy and political corruption brought about a government reform in 1982. At the same time, relations with North Korea, which had temporarily improved with Chun, went through a troubled phase. In 1983, several South Korean diplomats were killed in an attack in Yangon, Burma (now Myanmar), and a civilian plane in the country was shot down by Soviet missiles. In 1987, internal and external pressure forced the president to submit to a plebiscite a bill that democratized national political life. That same year, presidential elections were held, with the victory of the official party candidate, Roh Tae Woo,