A U.S. military government administers the Southern half of the Korean peninsula, and an Interim Legislative Assembly drafts laws for the future. Following the establishment of South Korea, Communist elements in the new South Korean army stage a revolt. After putting this rebellion down, the army cleans house and removes divisive elements, which leaves the military significantly weakened.
President Rhee twice amends the constitution to extend his political career. The first change, following the imposition of martial law, calls for the election of the president by popular vote, and Rhee is reelected with 72 percent of the vote. The second amendment allows him to succeed himself indefinitely.
A military coup led by Maj. Gen. Park Chung Hee overthrows the prime minister and dissolves the National Assembly. Martial law is instituted, and Park purges the military and government of corrupt or unqualified individuals, replacing civilian officials with military officers. He creates the Korean CIA, which has broad powers to arrest anyone with views not in line with the ruling party.
The junta proposes a new constitution, calling for a president elected by popular vote. New powers are granted the presidency, including the ability to act without legislative consent. Park plans a national referendum to determine if the military junta should remain in power for four more years, but cancels it in the face of U.S. and domestic opposition.
Upon his election as president in 1971, Park declares a national emergency and grants himself sweeping powers. In 1972 he declares martial law, implementing a new constitution that allows him to remain in control indefinitely with discretionary emergency powers. The KCIA jails student protestors and outspoken opposition politicians, going so far as to abduct an anti-Park politician from Japan.
Facing a popular campaign demanding a repeal of the 1972 constitution, Park bans this and all similar political campaigns. He enacts Emergency Measure Number Nine, making criticism of the constitution, student protests, and press coverage of such acts a crime punishable by imprisonment. Park defends the measure, calling it essential for national unity against a potential North Korean attack.
Kim Young Sam, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, voices his discontent over the domestic situation in a speech to the National Assembly. He is dismissed from the Assembly; other opposition politicians respond by resigning. Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah, acting president after Park's assassination, repeals Emergency Measure Number Nine and releases hundreds of political prisoners.
Gen. Chun Doo Hwan stages a coup, imposing martial law and neutralizing opposition politicians through trumped-up legal charges. A student and civilian protest against the coup ends in a bloody massacre at the hands of the military. A new constitution calls for sweeping democratic reforms, but must be ratified by the Assembly. In the meantime, a Chun-appointed security council rules the country.
Political parties are again allowed to organize, and active political life resumes as martial law is lifted. Chun, reelected president through electoral college voting, ensures his power through the courts, internal security forces, and tight control of the media. Banned political figures slowly begin to return to political life.
The Korean constitution is revised, dramatically altering the power relationships between executive, legislative, and judiciary branches, eliminating presidential emergency powers, and enabling the National Assembly to investigate state affairs. Roh Tae Woo is elected president with a minority of the popular vote. Opposition politicians allege election fraud, but no evidence is offered.
In the early 1990s, President Kim Young Sam begins his tenure in office by launching a far-reaching anticorruption campaign, indicting former presidents Chun and Roh for their roles in the 1979 coup and in the 1980 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.
A series of high-profile corruption scandals tarnish successive governments. In 2001 a deputy justice minister resigns over bribery allegations. In 2002 two sons of President Kim son are jailed for corruption. The president later apologizes to the nation for a large cash transfer that the conglomerate Hyundai is revealed to have made to North Korea at the time of a diplomatic summit.
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