Politics of South Korea

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Separation of powers and the election system of South Korea
Emblem of South Korea.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Korea

The politics of the Republic of Korea takes place in the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President is the head of state, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature and comprises a Supreme Court, appellate courts and a Constitutional Court. Since 1948, the constitution has undergone five major revisions, each signifying a new republic. The current Sixth Republic began with the last major constitutional revision in 1987.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated South Korea as the 20th most democratic country in 2017, the highest ranked Asian country and above Belgium, France or the United States.[1]

National government[edit]

Executive branch[edit]

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Moon Jae-in Democratic Party 10 May 2017
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon Democratic Party 31 May 2017

The head of state is the president, who is elected by direct popular vote for a single five-year[2] term. The president is Commander-in-Chief of the armed force of South Korea and enjoys considerable executive powers.

The president appoints the prime minister with approval of the National Assembly, as well as appointing and presiding over the State Council of chief ministers as the head of government. On 12 March 2004, the executive power of then president Roh Moo-hyun was suspended when the Assembly voted to impeach him and Prime Minister Goh Kun became an Acting President. On 14 May 2004, the Constitutional Court overturned the impeachment decision made by the Assembly and Roh was reinstated.

On 10 March 2017, Park Geun-hye became the first president to be removed by the Constitutional Court after impeachment by the National Assembly. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn temporarily served as an acting president between the suspension of Park since 9 December 2016 until the next presidential election, which was held in May 2017. On 9 May 2017, Moon Jae-in became the 19th president of South Korea, replacing acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Legislative branch[edit]

The National Assembly (국회, 國會, gukhoe) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term, 253 members in single-seat constituencies and 47 members by proportional representation. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is the largest party in the Assembly.

Judicial branch[edit]

The South Korean judiciary is independent of the other two branches. The highest judiciary body is the Supreme Court, whose justices are appointed by the president with the consent of the National Assembly. In addition, the Constitutional Court oversees questions of constitutionality. South Korea has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.

Political parties and elections[edit]

South Korea elects on national level a head of state – the president – and a legislature. The president is elected for a five-year term by the people. The National Assembly (Gukhoe) has 300 members, elected for a four-year term, 246 members in single-seat constituencies and 54 members by proportional representation.

The main political parties in South Korea are the liberal Democratic Party of Korea (lit. "Together Democratic Party", DPK), the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the centrist People's Party (PP), and the left-wing Justice Party (JP), etc.

The liberal camp and the conservative camp are the dominant forces of South Korean politics at present.

Parties in the 20th National Assembly
(as of 26 July 2018)
Group Floor leader Seats % of seats
Democratic Hong Young-pyo 129 43.14%
Liberty Korea Kim Sung-tae 112 37.46%
Bareunmirae Kim Kwan-young 30 10.03%
Democracy and Peace Chang Byoung-wan 14 4.68%
Justice Yun So-ha (Acting) 5 1.67%
Minjung - 1 0.33%
Korean Patriots' - 1 0.33%
Independents 7 2.34%
Total 299 100.0%


  1. Negotiation groups can be formed by 20 or more members. There are currently 3 negotiation groups in the Assembly, formed by the Democratic Party, the Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party.

Political nature[edit]

South Korea's political history has always been prone to splits from and merges with other parties. One reason is that there is greater empathise around the 'politics of the person' and rather than party, therefore party loyalty is not strong when disagreements occur. The graph below illustrates the extent of the political volatility within the last 10 years alone. These splits were intensified after the 2016 South Korean political scandal.

This graph traces the recent origins of all six main political parties currently in the Republic of Korea. All of which have either split from or merged with other parties in the last four years. They have emerged from four main ideological camps, from Left to Right: Progressive (socialist), liberal, centrist, and conservative.

Latest elections[edit]

e • d Summary of the 13 April 2016 South Korean National Assembly election results[3][4]
Party Constituency Party list Total
Votes % Seats +/– Votes % Seats +/–
Democratic Party of Korea (더불어민주당) (DPK) 1 8,881,369 37.0 110 Increase4 6,069,744 25.5 13 Decrease8 123 Decrease4
Saenuri Party (새누리당) (SP) 2 9,200,690 38.3 105 Decrease25 7,960,272 33.5 17 Decrease10 122 Decrease35
People's Party (국민의당) (PP) 3,565,451 14.9 25 (new) 6,355,572 26.7 13 (new) 38 (new)
Justice Party (정의당) (JP) 3 395,357 1.6 2 Increase2 1,719,891 7.2 4 Increase4 6 Increase6
Christian Liberal Party (기독자유당) (CLP) 1,376 0.0 0 (new) 626,853 2.6 0 (new) 0 (new)
Minjoo Party (민주당) (MP) 4 17,034 0.1 0 (new) 209,872 0.9 0 (new) 0 (new)
Other parties 257,879 1.1 0 Steady 818,773 3.4 0 Steady 0 Steady
Independents 1,683,264 7.0 11 Increase8 N/A 11 Increase8
Total 24,002,420 100.0 253 Increase7 23,760,977 100 47 Decrease7 300
Turnout: 58.0%[5]

Seat changes are compared to previous election, not the outgoing Assembly
1 Comparison based on 2012 Democratic United Party result
2 Comparison includes members elected in 2012 for the Liberty Forward Party
3 Comparison based on 2012 Unified Progressive Party result
4 Non-parliamentary grouping: not to be confused with the larger Minjoo Party of Korea, more usually referred to as the Minjoo Party

e • d Summary of the 9 May 2017 South Korean presidential election results
Candidate Party Votes %
Moon Jae-in Democratic 13,423,800 41.08
Hong Jun-pyo Liberty Korea 7,852,849 24.03
Ahn Cheol-soo People's 6,998,342 21.41
Yoo Seung-min Bareun 2,208,771 6.76
Sim Sang-jung Justice 2,017,458 6.17
Cho Won-jin Saenuri 42,949 0.13
Kim Min-chan Independent 33,990 0.10
Kim Sun-dong People's United 27,229 0.08
Chang Sŏng-min Grand National United 21,709 0.06
Yoon Hong-sik Hongik 18,543 0.05
Lee Kyung-hee Korean Nationalist 11,355 0.03
Lee Jae-oh Evergreen Korea 9,140 0.02
Oh Young-guk Economic Patriot 6,040 0.01
Invalid/blank votes 135,733
Total 32,807,908 100
Registered voters/turnout 42,479,710 77.23
Source: National Election Commission

Political pressure groups and leaders[edit]

  • Federation of Korean Industries
  • Federation of Korean Trade Unions
  • Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
  • Korean National Council of Churches
  • Korean Traders Association
  • Korean Veterans' Association
  • National Council of Labor Unions
  • National Democratic Alliance of Korea
  • National Federation of Farmers' Associations
  • National Federation of Student Associations

Administrative divisions[edit]

One Special City (Teukbyeolsi, Capital City), six Metropolitan Cities (Gwangyeoksi, singular and plural), nine Provinces (Do, singular and plural) and one Special Autonomous City (Sejong City).

International organization participation[edit]

AfDB, APEC, AsDB, BIS, CP, EBRD, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IEA (observer), IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, ITUC, MINURSO, NAM (guest), NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE (partner), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNMOGIP, UNOMIG, UNU, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee


  1. ^ solutions, EIU digital. "Democracy Index 2017 - The Economist Intelligence Unit". www.eiu.com. Retrieved 2018-06-06. 
  2. ^ "Korea, South". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 30 May 2017. 
  3. ^ "4.13 총선" (in Korean). Naver News. 13 April 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  4. ^ "개표진행상황" (in Korean). Republic of Korea National Election Commission. 14 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  5. ^ "20대 총선 잠정투표율 58.0%…19대보다 3.8%p↑" (in Korean). Yonhap News. 13 April 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 

External links[edit]