Government of South Korea

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Government of the Republic of Korea
Emblem of the Government of the Republic of Korea.svg
Emblem of the Government of South Korea
Jurisdiction South Korea
Legislative branch
LegislatureNational Assembly
Meeting placeNational Assembly Building
Executive branch
LeaderPresident of South Korea
HeadquartersBlue House
Main organCabinet
Judicial branch
CourtSupreme Court

The Government of South Korea is a centralized democratic republic with the three primary branches of government; executive, legislative and judicial. The president acts at the head of state and is the highest figure of authority in the country, followed by the prime minister and government ministers in decreasing order.[1]

Government of South Korea
Revised RomanizationDaehanminguk Jeongbu
McCune–ReischauerTaehanmin’guk Chŏngbu

The Executive and Legislative branches operate primarily at the national level, although various ministries in the executive branch also carry out local functions. Local governments are semi-autonomous and contain executive and legislative bodies of their own. The judicial branch operates at both the national and local levels. The South Korean government's structure is determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This document has been revised several times since its first promulgation in 1948 (for details, see History of South Korea). However, it has retained many broad characteristics; with the exception of the short-lived Second Republic of South Korea, the country has always had a relatively independent chief executive in the form of a president.

As with most stable three-branch systems, a careful system of checks and balances is in place. For instance, the judges of the Constitutional Court are partially appointed by the executive, and partially by the legislature. Likewise, when a resolution of impeachment is passed by the legislature, it is sent to the judiciary for a final decision.

Legislative branch[edit]

National Assembly building, Seoul (seen from distance)
National Assembly building, Seoul
Main chamber of National Assembly

At the national level, the legislative branch consists of the National Assembly of South Korea. This is a unicameral legislature; it consists of a single large assembly. Most of its 300 members are elected from single-member constituencies; however, 56 are elected through proportional representation. The members of the National Assembly serve for four years; in the event that a member is unable to complete his or her term, a by-election is held. The National Assembly is charged with deliberating and passing legislation, auditing the budget and administrative procedures, ratifying treaties, and approving state appointments. In addition, it has the power to impeach or recommend the removal of high officials.

The Assembly forms 17 standing committees to deliberate matters of detailed policy. For the most part, these coincide with the ministries of the executive branch.

Bills pass through these committees before they reach the floor. However, before they reach committee, they must already have gained the support of at least 20 members, unless they have been introduced by the president. To secure final passage, a bill must be approved by a majority of those present; a tie vote is not sufficient. After passage, bills are sent to the president for approval; they must be approved within 15 days.

Each year, the budget bill is submitted to the National Assembly by the executive. By law, it must be submitted at least 90 days before the start of the fiscal year, and the final version must be approved at least 30 days before the start of the fiscal year. The Assembly is also responsible for auditing accounts of past expenditures, which must be submitted at least 120 days before the start of the fiscal year.

Sessions of the Assembly may be either regular (once a year, for no more than 100 days) or extraordinary (by request of the president or a caucus, no more than 30 days). These sessions are open-door by default but can be closed to the public by majority vote or by decree of the Speaker. In order for laws to be passed in any session, a quorum of half the members must be present.

Currently, seven political parties are represented in the National Assembly.

Executive branch[edit]

Main buildings of Cheongwadae (official residence of South Korea's President), Seoul

The executive branch is headed by the president.[2] The president is elected directly by the people, and is the only elected member of the national executive.[3] The president serves for one five-year term; additional terms are not permitted.[4] The president is head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the South Korean armed forces.[5][6] The president is vested with the power to declare war, and can also propose legislation to the National Assembly.[7][8] He or she can also declare a state of emergency or martial law, subject to the Assembly's subsequent approval.[9] The President can veto bills, subject to a two-thirds majority veto override by the National Assembly.[10] However, the president does not have the power to dissolve the National Assembly. This safeguard reflects the experience of authoritarian governments under the First, Third, and Fourth Republics.

The president is assisted in his or her duties by the Prime Minister of South Korea as well as the Presidential Secretariat (대통령비서실, 大統領祕書室).[11] The Prime Minister is appointed by the president upon the approval of the National Assembly, and has the power to recommend the appointment or dismissal of the Cabinet ministers.[12] The officeholder is not required to be a member of the National Assembly. The Prime Minister is assisted in his/her duties by the Prime Minister's Office which houses both the Office for Government Policy Coordination (국무조정실, 國務調整室) and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat (국무총리비서실, 國務總理祕書室), the former of which is headed by a cabinet-level minister and the latter by a vice minister-level chief of staff.[13] In the event that the president is unable to fulfill his duties, the Prime Minister assumes the president's powers and takes control of the state until the President can once again fulfill his/her duties or until a new president is elected.[14]

In the event that they are suspected of serious wrongdoing, the president and cabinet-level officials are subject to impeachment by the National Assembly.[15] Once the National Assembly votes in favor of the impeachment the Constitutional Court should either confirm or reject the impeachment resolution, once again reflecting the system of checks and balances between the three branches of the government.[16]

The State Council (국무회의, 國務會議, gungmuhoeui) is the highest body and national cabinet for policy deliberation and resolution in the executive branch of the Republic of Korea. The Constitution of the Republic of Korea mandates that the Cabinet be composed of between 15 and 30 members including the Chairperson, and currently the Cabinet includes the President, the Prime Minister, the Vice Prime Minister (the Minister of Strategy and Finance), and the cabinet-level ministers of the 17 ministries.[17] The Constitution designates the President as the chairperson of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister as the vice chairperson.[18] Nevertheless, the Prime Minister frequently holds the meetings without the presence of the President as the meeting can be lawfully held as long as the majority of the Cabinet members are present at the meeting. Also, as many government agencies have recently been moved out of Seoul into other parts of the country the need to hold Cabinet meetings without having to convene in one place at the same time has been growing, and therefore the law has been amended to allow Cabinet meetings in a visual teleconference format.[19] Although not the official members of the Cabinet, the chief presidential secretary (대통령비서실장, 大統領祕書室長), the Minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination (국무조정실장, 國務調整室長), the Minister of Government Legislation (법제처장, 法制處長), the Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (국가보훈처장, 國家報勳處長), the Minister of Food and Drug Safety (식품의약품안전처장, 食品醫藥品安全處長), the Chairperson of Korea Fair Trade Commission (공정거래위원장, 公正去來委員長), the Chairperson of Financial Services Commission (금융위원장, 金融委員長), the Mayor of Seoul Special City (서울특별시장, 서울特別市長), and other officials designated by law or deemed necessary by the Chairperson of the Cabinet can also attend the Cabinet meetings and speak in front of the Cabinet without the right to vote on the matters discussed in the meetings [20] The Mayor of Seoul, although being the head of a local autonomous region in South Korea and not directly related to the central executive branch, has been allowed to attend the Cabinet meeting considering the special status of Seoul (Special City) and its mayor (the only cabinet-level mayor in Korea).

It has to be noted that the Cabinet of the Republic of Korea performs somewhat different roles than those of many other nations with similar forms. As the Korean political system is basically a presidential system yet with certain aspects of parliamentary cabinet system combined, the Cabinet of the Republic of Korea also is a combination of both systems. More specifically, the Korean Cabinet performs policy resolutions as well as policy consultations to the President. Reflecting that the Republic of Korea is basically a presidential republic the Cabinet resolutions cannot bind the president's decision, and in this regard, the Korean Cabinet is similar to those advisory counsels in strict presidential republics. At the same time, however, the Constitution of the Republic of Korea specifies in details 17 categories including budgetary and military matters, which necessitates the resolution of the Cabinet in addition to the President's approval, and in this regard the Korean Cabinet is similar to those cabinets in strict parliamentary cabinet systems.[21]

The official residence and office of the President of the Republic of Korea is Cheongwadae (청와대, 靑瓦臺), located in Jongno-gu, Seoul. The name "Cheongwadae" literally means "the house with blue-tiled roof" and is named as such due to its appearance. In addition to the Office of the President, Cheongwadae (청와대, 靑瓦臺) also houses the Office of National Security (국가안보실, 國家安保室) and the Presidential Security Service (대통령경호실, 大統領警護室) to assist the President.[22]


Government Complex Sejong (Northern portion)
Government Complex Seoul (Main Building)
Government Complex Gwacheon (the brown buildings in the top left side of the photo)

Currently, 18 ministries exist in the South Korean government.[23] The 18 ministers are appointed by the President and report to the Prime Minister. Also, some ministries have affiliated agencies (listed below), which report both to the Prime Minister and to the minister of the affiliated ministry. Each affiliated agency is headed by a vice-minister-level commissioner except Prosecution Service which is led by a minister-level Prosecutor General.

The Minister of Strategy and Finance and the Minister of Education, by law, automatically assume the positions of Deputy Prime Ministers of the Republic of Korea.

The respective ministers of the below ministries assume the President's position in the below order, in the event that the President cannot perform his/her duty and the Prime Minister cannot assume the President's position. Also note that the Constitution and the affiliated laws of the Republic of Korea stipulates only so far as the Prime Minister and the 17 ministers as those who can assume the President's position.[14] Moreover, in the event that the Prime Minister cannot perform his/her duty the Vice Prime Minister will assume the Prime Minister's position, and if both the Prime Minister and the Vice Prime Minister cannot perform the Prime Minister's role the President can either pick one of the 17 ministers to assume the Prime Minister's position or let the 17 ministers assume the position according to the below order.[24]

The commissioner of National Tax Service, a vice-minister-level official by law, is customarily considered to be a minister-level official due to the importance of National Tax Service. For example, the vice-commissioner of the agency will attend meetings where other agencies would send their commissioners, and the commissioner of the agency will attend meetings where minister-level officials convene.

Department Formed Employees Annual budget Location Head
Ministry of Economy and Finance
February 29, 2008 1,297
\21,062 billion
Sejong Hong Nam-ki
Ministry of Education
March 23, 2013 7,292
\74,916 billion
Sejong Yoo Eun-hae
Ministry of Science and ICT
July 26, 2017 35,560
\14,946 billion
Gwacheon Choi Ki-young
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
March 23, 2013 656
\2,450 billion
Seoul Kang Kyung-wha
Ministry of Unification
March 1, 1969 692
\1,326 billion
Seoul Lee In-young
Ministry of Justice
July 17, 1948 23,135
\3,880 billion
Gwacheon Park Beom-kye
Ministry of National Defense
August 15, 1948 1,095
\33,108 billion
Seoul Suh Wook
Ministry of the Interior and Safety
July 26, 2017 3,964
\55,682 billion
Sejong Chin Young
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
February 29, 2008 2,832
\5,923 billion
Sejong Park Yang-woo
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
March 23, 2013 3,706
\14,660 billion
Sejong Kim Hyeon-soo
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy
February 29, 2008 1,503
\7,693 billion
Sejong Sung Yun-mo
Ministry of Health and Welfare
March 19, 2010 3,637
\72,515 billion
Sejong Park Neung-hoo
Ministry of Environment
December 24, 1994 2,534
\7,850 billion
Sejong Cho Myung-rae
Ministry of Employment and Labor
July 5, 2010 7,552
\26,716 billion
Sejong Lee Jae-gap
Ministry of Gender Equality and Family
March 19, 2010 323
\1,047 billion
Seoul Lee Jung-ok
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport
March 23, 2013 4,443
\43,219 billion
Sejong Kim Hyun-mee
Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries
March 23, 2013 3,969
\5,180 billion
Sejong Moon Seong-hyeok
Ministry of SMEs and Startups
July 26, 2017 1,082
\10,266 billion
Daejeon Park Young-sun

Independent agencies[edit]

The following agencies report directly to the President:

The chairperson of the board, responsible for general administrative oversight, must be approved by the National Assembly to be appointed by the President. Also, although the law provides no explicit regulation regarding the chairperson's rank in the Korean government hierarchy, it is customary to consider the chairperson of the board to enjoy the same rank as a Vice Prime Minister. This is because the law stipulates that the secretary general of the board, the second highest position in the organization, be a Minister rank and therefore the Chairperson, directly over the secretary general in the organization, should be at least a Vice Prime Minister rank to be able to control the whole organization without any power clash.

The following councils advise the president on pertinent issues:

The following agencies report directly to the Prime Minister:

Relocation of government agencies[edit]

Until recently[when?] almost all of the central government agencies were located in either Seoul or Gwacheon government complex, with the exception of a few agencies located in Daejeon government complex. Considering that Gwacheon is a city constructed just outside Seoul to house the new government complex, virtually all administrative functions of South Korea were still concentrated in Seoul. It has been decided, however, that government agencies decide if they will relocate themselves to Sejong Special Self-Governing City, which was created from territory comprising South Chungcheong Province, so that government agencies are better accessible from most parts of South Korea and reduce the concentration of government bureaucracy in Seoul. Since the plan was announced, only a few selected agencies have moved to the new government complex in Sejong.[42][43]

The following agencies will settle in Government Complex Seoul:

The following agencies will settle in Seoul, but in separate locations:

The following agencies will settle in Government Complex Gwacheon:

The following agencies will settle in Government Complex, Daejeon:

The following agencies will settle in Government Complex Sejong:

The following agencies will settle in separate locations:

Judicial branch[edit]

The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, regional appellate courts, and local district, branch, municipal, and specialized courts. All courts are under the jurisdiction of the national judiciary; independent local courts are not permitted. Judges throughout the system are required to have passed a rigorous training system including a two-year program and two-year apprenticeship. All judicial training is provided through the Judicial Research and Training Institute, and is limited to those who have already passed the National Judicial Examination.

The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of government and the final court of appeal for all cases in South Korean law. The Supreme Court, seated in Seoul, consists of fourteen Justices, including one Chief Justice. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has the power over all court administration, and can recommend court-related legislation to the National Assembly. The Justices must be at least 40 years old, and have at least 15 years of experience practicing law. They serve for six-year terms; the Chief Justice cannot be reappointed, but the other justices can.

Below the Supreme Court come appellate courts, stationed in five of the country's major cities. Appellate courts typically consist of a panel of three judges. Below these are district courts, which exist in most of the large cities of South Korea. Below these are branch and municipal courts, positioned all over the country and limited to small claims and petty offenses. Specialized courts also exist for family, administrative, and patent cases.

The Constitutional Court, independent from the Supreme Court, is charged purely with constitutional review and with deciding cases of impeachment. Other judicial matters are overseen by the Supreme Court. This system was newly established in the Sixth Republic, to help guard against the excesses shown by past regimes. The Constitutional Court consists of nine judges. Of these, three are recommended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, three by the National Assembly, and three by the president; however, all must be appointed by the president. The President of the Constitutional Court is appointed by the national president, subject to the approval of the National Assembly. The members of the court serve for six-year renewable terms, and cannot be older than 65 (except for the President of the court, who may be as old as 70).

Because the Constitution of the Republic of Korea defines the territory of South Korea as "the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands," the courts of South Korea have allowed representatives of North Koreans to appear in South Korean courts with respect to inheritance in cases of deceased South Koreans with North Korean heirs. Assets pursuant to these claims are held in trust and dispersed only with government approval.[44]

South Korea's judiciary is often criticized for being overly lenient toward criminals. For example, in the Cho Doo-soon Case involving the brutal rape of an eight-year old girl, the 56 year old male rapist was sentenced to only 12 years in prison. In addition, the sentence is often commuted on the grounds that the offender is reflecting on sex crimes and sexual exploitation crimes.[45] In South Korea, distrust in the judiciary is very high compared to other countries.[46] And, distrust of judiciary is very high in OECD countries, and Colombia (26 percent), Chile (19 percent), and Ukraine (12 percent) were the only countries with less trust in the judiciary than South Korea.[47]


Elections in South Korea are held on national level to select the President and the National Assembly. South Korea has a multi-party system, with two dominant parties and numerous third parties. Elections are overseen by the Electoral Branch, National Election Commission (Republic of Korea). The most recent presidential election was held on 9 May 2017.

The president is directly elected for a single five-year term by plurality vote. The National Assembly has 300 members elected for a four-year term, 253 in single-seat constituencies and 47 members by proportional representation. Each individual party intending to represent its policies in the National Assembly must be qualified through the Assembly's general election by either: i) the national party-vote reaching over 3.00% on a proportional basis or ii) more than 5 members of their party being elected in each of their first-past-the-post election constituencies.[48]

Human Rights Commission[edit]

National Human Rights Commission of Korea (국가인권위원회, 國家人權委員會),[49] by law, is guaranteed an independent status regarding all human rights issues in Korea. To ensure its independent status it is legally separated from all three branches (legislative, executive, judicial) of the government of South Korea. Moreover, to further ensure its independence, 4 of the 11 commissioners are chosen by the National Assembly, another 4 by the President, and the final 3 by the Chief Justice, so that no branch can hold the majority in the commission.[50]

Local governments[edit]

Local autonomy was established as a constitutional principle of South Korea beginning with the First Republic. However, for much of the 20th century this principle was not honored. From 1965 to 1995, local governments were run directly by provincial governments, which in turn were run directly by the national government. However, since the elections of 1995, a degree of local autonomy has been restored. Local magistrates and assemblies are elected in each of the primary and secondary administrative divisions of South Korea, that is, in every province, metropolitan or special city, and district. Officials at lower levels, such as eup and dong, are appointed by the city or county government.

As noted above, local autonomy does not extend to the judicial branch. It also does not yet extend to many other areas, including fire protection and education, which are managed by independent national agencies. Local governments also have very limited policy-making authority; generally, the most that they can do is decide how national policies will be implemented. However, there is some political pressure for the scope of local autonomy to be extended.

Although the chief executive of each district is locally elected, deputy executives are still appointed by the central government. It is these deputy officials who have detailed authority over most administrative matters.

Civil service[edit]

The South Korean civil service is managed by the Ministry of Personnel Management. This is large, and remains a largely closed system, although efforts at openness and reform are ongoing. In order to gain a position in civil service, it is usually necessary to pass one or more difficult examinations. Positions have traditionally been handed out based on seniority, in a complex graded system; however, this system was substantially reformed in 1998.

There are more than 800,000 civil servants in South Korea today. More than half of these are employed by the central government; only about 300,000 are employed by local governments. In addition, only a few thousand each are employed by the national legislative and judicial branches; the overwhelming majority are employed in the various ministries of the executive branch. The size of the civil service increased steadily from the 1950s to the late 1990s, but has dropped slightly since 1995.

The civil service, not including political appointees and elected officials, is composed of career civil servants and contract civil servants. Contract servants are typically paid higher wages and hired for specific jobs. Career civil servants make up the bulk of the civil service, and are arranged in a nine-tiered system in which grade 1 is occupied by assistant ministers and grade 9 by the newest and lowest-level employees. Promotions are decided by a combination of seniority, training, and performance review. Civil servants' base salary makes up less than half of their annual pay; the remainder is supplied in a complex system of bonuses. Contract civil servants are paid on the basis of the competitive rates of pay in the private sector.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  • Korea Overseas Information Service (2003). Handbook of Korea, 11th ed. Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 978-1-56591-212-0.
  1. ^ "What Type Of Government Does South Korea Have?". WorldAtlas. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  2. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제66조
  3. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제67조
  4. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제70조
  5. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제66조 제1항, 제4항
  6. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제74조
  7. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제73조
  8. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제3장 제52조
  9. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제76조, 제77조
  10. ^ Article 53 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.
  11. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제2장 제14조
  12. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제1관 제86조
  13. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제20조, 제21조
  14. ^ a b 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제1절 제71조
  15. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제3장 제65조
  16. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제6장 제111조 제1항의2
  17. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제88조 제2항
  18. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제88조 제3항
  19. ^ 대한민국 국무회의 규정 제6조 제2항
  20. ^ 대한민국 국무회의 규정 제8조
  21. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제89조
  22. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제2장 제15조, 제16조
  23. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제4장 행정각부
  24. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제22조
  25. ^ Established to consolidate most Saemangeum development projects and their support functions (currently provided by many different government bodies) into a single government agency for maximum efficiency. Commenced operation on September 12th, 2013.
  26. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제4관 감사원
  27. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제2장 제17조
  28. ^ 대한민국 방송통신위원회의 설치 및 운영에 관한 법률 제2장 제3조
  29. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제91조
  30. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제92조
  31. ^ 대한민국 헌법 제4장 제2절 제2관 제93조
  32. ^ 대한민국 국가과학기술자문회의법 제1조
  33. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제22조의 2
  34. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제22조의 3
  35. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제23조
  36. ^ 대한민국 정부조직법 제3장 제25조
  37. ^ 대한민국 독점규제 및 공정거래에 관한 법률 제9장 제35조
  38. ^ 대한민국 부패방지 및 국민권익위원회의 설치와 운영에 관한 법률 제2장 제11조
  39. ^ 대한민국 금융위원회의 설치 등에 관한 법률 제2장 제1절 제3조
  40. ^ 개인정보 보호법 제2장 제7조
  41. ^ 대한민국 원자력안전위원회의 설치 및 운영에 관한 법률 제2장 제3조
  42. ^ 안전행정부 정부청사관리소
  43. ^ 국토교통부 행정중심복합도시건설청
  44. ^ Choe Sang-Hun (August 1, 2013). "Court Rules North Koreans Can Inherit Property From South". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  45. ^ "사법불신/원인" (in Korean).
  46. ^ "The shadow of judicial distrust..."Distrust trial, distrust judge"".
  47. ^ "South Korea's judiciary has 27% credibility. Lowest of OECD".
  48. ^ Representation System(Elected Person) Archived 2008-04-22 at the Wayback Machine, the NEC, Retrieved on April 10, 2008
  49. ^ 대한민국 국가인권위원회법 제1장 제3조 제2항
  50. ^ 대한민국 국가인권위원회법 제2장 제5조

External links[edit]