If you are interested in South Korean politics, you’ll find a few differences compare to the politics of other countries.The Korean government in particular is an interesting mix of the western political thoughts and some local adaptation. In this post, I want to compare and contrast the Korean government with the two notable government systems in the West, those of the U.K. and U.S.
Put it simply, South Korea is a democratic republic with a presidential system with some elements of Westminster parliamentary system, having some elements of the English and American systems. For the most part, the Korean president is similar in role and power in comparison with the U.S. or French presidents. However, there are some differences and here are the few.
NO VICE PRESIDENT
The Korean president has a cabinet and a prime minister instead. There is so called vice-prime minister who is also the minister of economics. You also see the secretary of the Treasury and the chancellor of the Exchequer holding a prominent position among the ministers or secretaries in the U.S. and the U.K.
Back So in case the president is no longer capable of continuing his or her duty, the prime minister fills in. Unlike the vice president in the U.S. who’ll become the president, the prime minister subs in until a new president is elected in 60 days.
The Korean prime minister is not the same as those in the U.K., and Australia because in the English commonwealth countries, the prime minister is like the Korean president, the head of government. The Korean prime minister is more like the chief minister or chief-of-staff. In the current Korean politics, the prime ministers are often used as a scapegoat for unpopular policies or government failures. Having the PM somewhat insulates the president from the whim of the national politics.
Because South Korea no longer has a king or queen, the head of government is the head of the state. I sometimes wish we had a separate head of state from that of government as is in Japan, the U.K. and Germany. Interestingly, Germany has a president and nobody knows who he is- Chancellor Merkel does all the acts. So the Korean president has to play a “dual” role of an impartial head of state and a leader of his or her political party.
FIVE YEAR SINGLE TERM
Once elected, the Korean president does not have to worry about the reelection since he cannot run for another term. This limit is put in place after the people were fed up with the military dictators, one of whom was the father of the current Madam President Park.
OATH OF OFFICE
The Korean oath of office is as follows:
“I solemnly swear to execute the duty of the office of the president faithfully by following the Constitution and defend the country and doing my best for the peaceful reunification of the fatherland and furtherance of the people’s liberty and welfare as well as advancement of the national culture.”
Interestingly, the oath does say much about the the government policy goal. It is well within the president’s role to promote K-pop and the soap opera and talk with the North Korean regime for instance. There is no Bible or reference to the supernatural beings however.
GOVERNOR PLUS PRESIDENT
South Korea is a compact country with a highly centralized government so the president has more direct influence to the average citizens than the U.S. or Canadian head of government does. The country is in the process of delegating more power to the local governments but we are nowhere near the level of Scotland or U.S. states.
The Korean government also has some fondness for pushing (or forcing) policy agenda toward the people so what the president or the central government decides actually impact your day-to-day lives.
As is in most countries, you need to be a Korean citizen to vote for president. The presidents are elected directly by popular vote and people do not really vote for the party. So there are cases when a popular candidate lost in a party primary and still ran in the election. The personal image rather than the policy seems to be the deciding factor as least in the recent Korean elections.
As in most democracies, the Korean party loyalty is highly regional. The liberal is very strong in the Southwest while the conservative is strong in the Southeast. The Seoul area is equally divided and often a fierce battleground for the election. If you see a huge demonstration right in Seoul, you can easily understand why. The Blue House, the president’s residence, is located in the largest city in the country with plenty of people opposed to the president. (This is one reason why Louis the Fourteenth of France built Versailles outside Paris to stay away from the angry mob.)
In my opinion, I think Yuna Kim has a good shot at becoming a president if she gains some experience and gets a party backing. She is by far the most famous and recognizable person here and she has plenty of cash to boot.
The same is true with Chanho Park, formerly Major League player and Jisung Park of Manchester United but I think Yuna Kim would get greater female support and she has more refined or stately images compare to the the two players.