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History, Democratic Reforms

nonaggression pact, Democratic Liberal Party, Roh Tae Woo, military coup, y years

Following a series of mass protest demonstrations in 1987, President Chun promised democratic reforms, including direct presidential elections. Voters adopted a new, democratic constitution in a referendum in October, and Roh Tae Woo, the candidate of Chunís party, was elected president in December. The new constitution took effect in February 1988. In elections held in April, opposition parties captured a majority of the National Assembly. Later that year, South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics. In March 1991 the first local elections in 30 years were held. Candidates of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) won a majority of posts even as antigovernment demonstrations by students intensified. In September 1991 North and South Korea were admitted to the UN as separate countries and three months later the two countries signed a nonaggression pact.

In 1992 Roh stepped down as leader of the Democratic Liberal Party amid allegations that his party had bought votes in the March elections. In the national elections of December 1992, South Korea elected Kim Young Sam, a former dissident who had joined forces with the DLP in 1990. Soon after taking office, Kim launched an anticorruption reform program that included publicizing the assets of politicians, senior civil servants, and some judiciary and military members. Resignations followed from many people whose publicized wealth was clearly disproportionate to their income levels. In December 1993 the government agreed to open the heavily protected Korean rice market to imports. The resulting public outcry, which included violent demonstrations in Seoul, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hwang In Sung and his cabinet, although the decision to allow rice imports was not reversed.

In late 1995 Kimís anticorruption campaign resulted in the arrest of his predecessors, Chun and Roh. Both former presidents were subsequently indicted and put on trial for their alleged roles in the 1979 military coup that brought Chun to power and the May 1980 military crackdown in the city of Kwangju, in which several hundred pro-democracy demonstrators were killed. In addition, they were separately put on trial on charges they had each accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes from business interests while they were in office. Dozens of South Koreaís most prominent business leaders also were implicated in the scandal. Chun and Roh were eventually convicted in 1996 of mutiny, sedition, and corruption. Chun received the death sentence while Roh received 22y years in prison. In December, their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment and 17 years, respectively, and in December 1997 they were both pardoned. Meanwhile, Kim denied allegations from the opposition that he had personally received money for his 1992 presidential campaign from Rohís stash of illegal funds. In December 1995 Kim renamed the DLP the New Korea Party (NKP) in an effort to distance the party from its association with the military regimes of Chun and Roh.

In January 1996 Kim admitted in a televised address to the nation that before he became president he had accepted political donations from business interests; however, he denied the funds were bribes for political favors. In late March 1996 Kimís former aide of 20 years, Chang Hak Ro, was arrested on bribery charges, casting doubt on Kimís anticorruption campaign just weeks before the April parliamentary elections. The NKP lost control of the National Assembly in the elections; shortly thereafter, however, it was able to recruit 11 independent legislators to regain its 150-seat majority.



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