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State structure

South Korea has a presidential system. The constitution, last amended in 1987, limits the power of the president and grants extensive legislative power to parliament. The President is elected every five years for a maximum of one term, the Parliament every four years. The parliament consists of one chamber and a minimum of 200 members. In the elections of April 2000, 227 members were directly elected in the districts and 46 seats were distributed among the parties according to the proportion of the total votes obtained. Judges are appointed by the President, but must be confirmed by Parliament. Freedom of assembly, the right of habeas corpus, the right to strike and the right to organise free trade unions are enshrined in the constitution. The main political parties are the Grand National Party (GNP, the opposition party in parliament - 135 seats), the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP, of President Kim Dae-jung - 118 seats), the United Liberal Democrats (ULD, of former Prime Ministers Kim Jong-pil and Park Tae-joon - 15 seats). The country is divided into 11 administrative units: 9 provinces and the cities of Seoul and Pusan. The regional government is directly elected but has little say.


Parliamentary politics in South Korea is characterised by fierce factional fighting, regional divisions, opposition boycotts and lawsuits. Ministers in South Korea are often in office for only one year. The landscape of political parties has not yet crystallised definitively: political parties are often formed around one or more key figures and often only exist for a few years, after which they disappear or are absorbed by new parties. Currently, the most important parties are President Roh's ruling Uri Party and the opposition Grand National Party (GNP), led by Park Geun-hye, daughter of the 1979 assassinated dictator Park Chung-hee.

In the spring of 2004, President Roh was prevented from holding office for several months due to opposition-led impeachment proceedings. However, the Supreme Court declared the case unfounded and reinstated President Roh. This case underlines the growing importance of the South Korean Supreme Court as the ultimate authority for resolving politically sensitive issues. Another example is President Roh's plan to move the capital from Seoul to a rural city in the southwest, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in autumn 2004 and the plan was withdrawn. The capital transfer was one of President Roh's election promises, but the opposition strongly opposed the plan. As it stands, part of the administration will eventually be transferred to the southwest. This exercise will not be completed for another 20 years.

The current political situation is described in the history section.


The economic development of South Korea in recent decades has taken place at a rare pace. In the 1960s, industrialisation began with an emphasis on export-oriented and labour-intensive light industry. At the same time, the domestic market was protected by high tariff barriers. From the 1970s, heavy industry (shipbuilding, steel) also developed, followed in the 1980s and 1990s by high-tech industry and the development of the service sector. South Korean industrial production is largely in the hands of huge conglomerates, also called "chaebols", of which Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and LG are some well-known examples.

Until the mid-1990s, the chaebols controlled the protected domestic market almost completely and could thus focus on increasing their world market share. This expansion was mainly financed by Korean banks, which in turn borrowed and invested extensively abroad.

The financial crisis of 1997 hit South Korea particularly hard and led to a crisis that spread from the banking sector to all sectors of the economy. In the end, only an IMF aid package of USD 58 billion was able to save the country from complete collapse. The IMF conditions for this assistance included downsizing the chaebols, making the banks more market-oriented and transparent, and opening the domestic market to foreign goods, services and investment. South Korea had repaid the IMF loan by the end of 2001. Monetary policy was tight and the economy recovered strongly in 1999 and 2000, with growth rates of 9 to 10 percent. This growth has levelled off in recent years: the South Korean economy continues to grow reasonably well but is still heavily dependent on developments in export markets. South Korea is therefore in the process of concluding free trade agreements with important trading partners. In addition, South Korea wants to take more advantage of its geographical location. Within North-East Asia, a region that now accounts for 20% of total world trade, it wants to profile itself as a centre for logistics and financial services in the North-East Asia region.

In 2004, South Korea joined the economies worth more than a trillion dollars. Currently (2017), South Korea is the fourteenth largest economy in the world. South Korea's export-oriented economy was hit hard by the 2008 global economic downturn, but quickly rebounded in the following years, reaching 6.3% growth in 2010. The US and Korea signed a free trade agreement in 2011 that came into force in March 2012. In 2012 and 2013, the economy grew more slowly ( around 2.5%) due to market slack in the US, China and the Eurozone. Longer-term challenges of the South Korean economy are a rapidly ageing population, an inflexible labour market, the dominance of large conglomerates ( chaebols ) and heavy dependence on exports accounting for about half of GDP. In 2017, the economy grew by 3.1% and GDP was $39,500 per capita.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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