South Korea’s Democracy in Crisis

The Threats of Illiberalism, Populism, and Polarization

June 2, 2022
3D mockup cover of APARC's volume 'South Korea's Democracy in Crisis'

Like in many other states worldwide, democracy is in trouble in South Korea, entering a state of regression in the past decade, barely thirty years after its emergence in 1987. The society that recently had ordinary citizens leading “candlelight protests” demanding the impeachment of Park Geun-hye in 2016-17 has become polarized amid an upsurge of populism, driven by persistent structural inequalities, globalization, and the rise of the information society. 

The symptoms of democratic decline are increasingly hard to miss: political opponents are demonized, democratic norms are eroded, and the independence of the courts is whittled away. Perhaps most disturbing is that this all takes place under a government dominated by former pro-democracy activists.

The contributors to this volume trace the sources of illiberalism in today’s Korea; examine how political polarization is plaguing its party system; discuss how civil society and the courts have become politicized; look at the roles of inequality, education, and social media in the country’s democratic decline; and consider how illiberalism has affected Korea’s foreign policy. 

Table of Contents

Introduction
Korea’s Democratic Decay: Worrisome Trends and Pressing Challenges
Gi-Wook Shin and Ho-Ki Kim

1. Why Is Korean Democracy Majoritarian but Not Liberal?
Byongjin Ahn

2. Uses and Misuses of Nationalism in the Democratic Politics of Korea
Aram Hur

3. The Weakness of Party Politics and Rise of Populism in Korea
Kwanhu Lee

4. The Politicization of Civil Society: No Longer Watchdogs of Power, Former Democratic Activists Are Becoming New Authoritarian Leaders 
Myoung-Ho Park

5. The Politicization of the Judiciary in Korea: Challenges in Maintaining the Balance of Power
Seongwook Heo

6. Two Divergences in Korea’s Economy and Democracy: Regional and Generational Disparities
Jun-Ho Jeong and Il-Young Lee

7. Democracy and the Educational System in Korea 
Seongsoo Choi

8. Social Media and the Salience of Polarization in Korea
Yong Suk Lee

9. Illiberalism in Korean Foreign Policy
Victor Cha

10. The Democratic Recession: A Global and Comparative Perspective
Larry Diamond

Epilogue
Korea’s 2022 Presidential Election: Populism in the Post-Truth Era
Ho-Ki Kim and Gi-Wook Shin

Media Coverage

To celebrate the publication of South Korea's Democracy in Crisis, APARC held a book launch seminar in Seoul on June 14, 2022. The event received extensive coverage in Korean media, including the following: