Korea and the U.S. have been maintaining a friendly relationship since South Korea became independent from Japan. Korea got emancipated from Japan as soon as the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during World War 2 on the 15th of August, 1945. Since then, The U.S. backed up South Korea with democracy, and the Soviet Union backed up North Korea with communism. They both had totally opposite ideologies about government. The U.S. and South Korea headed toward democracy, on the other hand, the Soviet Union and North Korea pointed to communism. Due to the inconsistency of the opinions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, South Korea had to be separated from North Korea by decision of other countries. Going through the process of electing the president and the members of the National Assembly and framing the constitution, Korean government was established as a formal country in the world under the constitution with help of the U.S. on 15th of August in 1948. That is why Korean and the U.S. government structure have very similar aspects; however, as time goes by, Koreans have changed their government to fit their people better. In this paper, I am going to look into government structure, political issues, and public attitudes between the U.S. and Korea.
The government structure of the U.S. and Korea is basically almost the same. They both consist of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial to check and balance. First of all, the legislative branch of South Korea is called the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. The biggest difference of the structure is that Korean legislative consists of a single house in the National Assembly which has 299 members, elected for a four year term, 243 members in single-seat constituencies and 56 members by proportional representation. On the other hand, the legislative of the U.S. is divided into two houses, Senate and the House of Representatives. The reason why Korea has only one House is because South Korea is a small country, having too many people in Congress would actually slow the political process. The organization of the National Assembly is made of the individual members, the Speaker and two Vice Speakers as a presiding officer, 16 committees, and other supporting administrative organs. Main activities of the congress can be divided into three parts extensively such as legislation, finance, and nation. Congress is able to pass legislation, and the bills go through a very similar process to the U.S. Even the presidential signing of bills is similar. When the bill is finally delivered to the president, the president is able to sign or veto, including pocket veto. The only thing which is different from the U.S. legislative process is the time the president has in order to make a decision regarding a bill. In financial work, they make a budget on the government’s revenue and expenditures for the fiscal year. They are also empowered to inspect about, audit and impeach public officials according to the legal procedures.
Second, the executive branch consists of the President, the Prime Minister, and executive ministers in cabinet. In the U.S. the popular vote plays a role to determine which candidates are going to have the electoral vote of states, and the candidate who gets more electoral vote finally becomes the president. On the other hand, in Korea the president is elected every 4 years only by popular vote. The U.S. and Korean president have the same powers such as the appointment power, the power to convene congress, the power to make treaties, the pardoning power, and so forth. Back in the 1950s, Korea used to have the position of a vice president. Before a revolutionary movement for anti-irregularities and anti-government broke out on April 19th, in 1960, the first president of South Korea had held the office for 12 years. At that time, there was the vice president who organized a political party which supported the president. He became the vice president by a fraudulent election and helped the president who was involved to be able to keep the position for long time. Since then, the system got changed by removing a vice president and giving more power to the prime minister. Therefore, the prime minister plays a role as a vice president in Korea and is nominated by the president with the approval of the National Assembly. The prime minister’s main role is to assist the president, to succeed the president in an emergency, and to supervise 18 ministries.
At last, the judicial branch used to consist of three levels of courts; the Supreme Court, the appeals courts, and the district courts. However, the court system was changed recently, so that there is only a federal court. Provinces and local government are not allowed to establish their own prosecution system. The biggest difference between the U.S. and Korea is a jury system. Korea’s judicial system is generally based on judges’ verdicts in all case. There is no trial by jury. The Supreme Court consists of thirteen justices and a chief justice. The process of appointing the Supreme justices is the same as the prime minister. They do not hold a lifetime postion, but serve for 6 years. The appeals courts are placed in five locations such as Seoul, Taegu, Pusan, Kwangju, and Taejeon which serve as retional centers. Besides the three-tier court system, the judicial also operates a family court, an administrative court and a patent court.
As it was mentioned above, the government structure of the U.S. and Korea does not look very different. However, one thing to know is that Korean local government does not have as much power as state government has in the U.S. The U.S. states have autonomous government, but Korean local government tightly belongs to central government in many parts which means the power of central government is pretty strong. The federal government of the United States also has strong power according to diplomacy and other policies, but in Korea, the international issues, education, industry, environment, are all under the central government control.
Another thing to consider is political parties. There are two political parties; Democratic and Republican. These parties are the ones with a realistic chance for winning the general election in the U.S. It is called a two party system. The reason why two parties could persist for a long time is because Democratic and Republican have their own ideology. In other words, they have directly-opposed platforms. Unlike the U.S. political parties, Korean political parties have been changed many times over the history of 63 years. Many political parties were formed and disappeared. For instance, the Democratic Party has been changed 25 times, and the Republican Party has been changed 11 times so far. The theme of ideological political parties got highlighted in Korean politics since the Democratic Labor Party which has a tendency to the leftwing liberal entered into the political party arena. However, the Korean political parties used to be more apt to be a group for benefits than a group for ideologies before. They used to take their regions more seriously than their ideologies. Now, two parties are opposed to each other; the Grand National Party as Republican and the Democratic Party as Democratic, but they are still not as conservative or progressive as the Republican and Democratic in the U.S.
Since Korea became an independent coutry in the world, it has been as a democratic country for 63 years. However, in the beginning, civil freedom was not pretected by the government. People had to go through many hardships in order to have the liberties Koreans enjoy now; such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. For example, in 1980, a landmark event changed Korean laws to pretect citizens against abuse of power from the government and the president. Students and citizens rose up against Chun Doohwan’s government of military dictatorship. The president who held the real power of government and military declared martial law and sent troops to the city in order to put down the rebellion. They used violence against students and civilians, but all they wanted was a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. During this time, approximately 200 people died and 900 people injured and the incident is referred to as “5.18 Gwangju Democratization Movement” to commemorate the date happened.
Because of people who tried to secure their rights and liberties, South Korea is now one of the “freest” coutries in the world meaning that Korean citizens can enjoy a wide range of civil liberties protected by law. According to the website, Freedomhouse, it says how free people in countries have political rights and civil liberties in a certain range from 1 up to 7; 1 to 3 is free, 3 to 5 is partly free, and 5 to 7 is not free. Obviously, the United States has the highest score; 1 for both political rights and civil liberties, and South Korea was evaluated one grade lower for civil liberties.
The public attitude of Koreans has been changed simultaneously with Korean politics, but, unfortunately, it has been decreasing. Back in the 1990s, 71.2% of people answered that politics is important, but it is decreased by 19% in 2009. In addition, the proportion of people who talk about politics is decreased by almost 30% when they have a conversation with other people. Since procedural democracy was introduced in 1987, people’s expectation about politics was high. As time goes by, more people started regarding things they enjoy now as a natural result. In 1990, 34.2% of people thought of the government positively, but 19 years after, 10.8% of people trust the government and only 1.4% out of 10.8% was very trustworthy. It happens to voting turnout as well. However, many people still directly or indirectly participate in government even though people do not trust the government and are not interested in the government. For example, there are more people who launch and sign a signature-collecting campaign for political issues because of not only the improvement of freedom of expression, but also increase of opportunities to participate. Moreover, more people attend legal assemblies than before. As it was mentioned above, voting which is referred to as a formal and direct way people can participate in government is losing the interest from people. In spite of the fact, they find other ways to define their thought and position for political issues.
The best example of the public attitude of Koreans about political issues is the large demonstrations against the resumption of beef imports from the United States in 2008. It has been a hot issue whether Korea opens the door to import beef from the U.S. The reason why people got angry at the government is because the government did not listen to the public opinions. There were many reasons why people strongly disagreed with the policy that the government decided. First, it would definetely affect the domestic livestock industry. Once they are imported in large quantities, people are going to buy the imported beef more than the domestic beef because the imported beef will be much cheaper. Second, there was a possibility of the “mad-cow” disease from the imported beef. Because of many facts, it has been postponded by two former presidents. All over the country, countless people went out to join the peaceful street demonstration againtst the government’s policy. Some people even brought their children, and people from all age groups were involved in the demonstration.Although the government’s response was very different from that of “5.18,” many Koreans still feel the government has a long way to go in order to be the democracy people want.
In conclusion, Korea has been a democratic country for 63 years in the world. Many people sacrified their rights, liberties, and sometimes even life in order to create a better government for the next generation. Korean democracy might not be as stable as the U.S. which has the democratic history of 200 years. People never know if it is going to be better than now or how long it is going to take to get improved. However, Korean people know that their democracy is still going through a process of development.
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