South Korea Table of Contents
Soon after Park's October 26, 1979 assassination, South Korea went through kaleidoscopic changes--intense and open competition for power, student upheavals, a military takeover, a gruesome massacre, and the emergence of a new authoritarian order. Since Park had concentrated virtually all political power around himself, his assassination created a political vacuum. One of his main pillars of power, the director of the Presidential Security Force, was assassinated with him; the director of the other major political instrument, the KCIA, was quickly arrested by the Martial Law Command for conducting the assassinations. In addition, the National Assembly, one-third of its members presidential appointees, had been rendered impotent by the yusin constitution.
Ch'oe Kyu-ha, premier under Park, was elected president in December 1979 by the National Conference of Unification, a rubber stamp electoral college. Ch'oe had no independent political base. He reaffirmed the need for a new constitution in his December 21 inaugural speech, stating that a new constitution supported by a majority of the people would be adopted within a year and that a fair general election would be held soon afterward.
Even before his inauguration, Ch'oe, as acting president, had abolished Emergency Measure Number Nine. Several hundred individuals serving prison terms or being investigated on charges of violating that decree were released on December 8. One of those benefiting from the release was Kim Dae Jung, who had been under house arrest and whose civil rights were to be restored on February 29, 1980. Also affected were student activists who had been arrested for staging campus demonstrations.
Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan, the head of the Defense Security Command was responsible for conducting the investigation of Park's assassination. Chun used the factionalism rife within the military to assert his control over the army on December 12, 1979. He promptly set about uprooting the Park-era power elite and building a new political base. This power play, combined with increasing social and labor unrest, economic instability, and the factionalism within and between the ruling and opposition parties, set the scene for the military's consolidation of power and culminated in Chun's assumption of the presidency in August 1980.
Politics in South Korea in 1980 mainly revolved around framing a new constitution. The principal opposition party, the New Democratic Party under Kim Young Sam, advocated concluding the process by August 15, but President Ch'oe, evidently under military pressure, was not ready to expedite the constitutional process. The scheduling issue led to a major student upheaval in May 1980, followed by a military takeover.
Data as of June 1990