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June Uprising in Korea

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“Democracy” has been the most dominant concept throughout Western civilisation. There is no consent definition of democracy, but democracy mainly includes the statement of John Locke and the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights. Among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ” Many Asian countries have accepted Western democracy. South Korea is one of them.

The June Uprising” in 1987 in South Korea is considered as the significant event that made the transition of democracy from military dictatorship to real democracy. This essay will discuss “the June uprising” in terms of the brief description, democracy in practice, criticism, and the failure of democracy in the different view. After the Korean war, South Korea had been under military dictatorships. Despite the passion of Korean people for democracy, a new military power led by Chun Doo Hwan declared a new constitution including the indirect election of the president, and elected Chun Doo Hwan as the president.

On 10 June 1987, the public protested against the government’s authoritarian reign and oppressing control. The demonstrators consisted of students, working class and the middle classes (the white collar workers, urban professionals, the self imployment and ect). They forced Chun’s government to free political prisoners, allow direct presidential elections, and open the road for real democracy. Chun government oppressed the public by the troops. However, finally, the June Uprising recorded a victory.

The people’s requests for democracy were accepted, and 6. 9 Democracy Declaration was proclaimed based on the direct election of the president. The presidential election was held according to this new constitution. The June Uprising is a democratic action in two aspects. Firstly, it started from the people aiming at representative democracy. Liberal democracy is “a form of electoral democracy”, that is, political authority is only legitimated through popular voting (Heywood 227). The main slogan of the June uprising is “Doc-Jea-Ta-Do (knock down despotic government)” through ‘one person, one vote’.

It is directly related to the principle of political equality which based on universial suffrage. Secondly, the June uprising shows that Asian countries have capacity of practicing democracy despite of their situational difference and cultural difference with Western countries. It is illustrated by the counter arguments of the theory that democracy is not suitable for Asia. One reason of the theory is that Asian people are reluctant to voice under Confucian political culture.

Confucianism values “social harmony” and “family” rather than an “individual”. Asians are afraid of speaking our their interests. For the reason, although it might be true that people are the best judged in determining their own interests, Asians would not raise their voice and would not be participated in political debate (Ling & Shin, 1988, cited in Bell 197). Another reason is that in developing countries economic development is above individual rights so a good government is the result, not process (Bell 185).

It is further argued that people in third country believes that “the notion of human dignity as consisting of economic rights rather than civil or political rights” due to “the colonial experience of economic exploitation” (Pollis 9). Another theory is that economic growth is necessary for establishing democracy but it is not what Asian ultimately want to achieve. However, the June uprising is against the theory that democracy is not suitable for Asia. First of all, Korean people raised their voice to attain the political rights and freedom.

They even sacrificed themselves on the streets. The uprising continued for nearly three weeks. Seoul, the capital city of Korea and thirty other cities were participated in. According to the national police headquarters, police officers fired “351,200 tear gas canisters from June 10 to June 26” (Lee 37). Moreover, before the June Uprising, several demonstrations against dictatorships were unsuccessful because most demonstrations were not supported by a large number of people. The reason is that many people in Korea did not have time to concern about politics.

They did not satisfy basic phycholoogical needs such as clothing, food and housing at the time. Thus, it is assumed that economic growth may be as prerequisite for the viability of democracy (James& Coleman 536). Nevertheless, in 1987, as a consequence of the successful accomplishment several successive five year economic development plans, the most Koreans started to seek basic human rights, fair partisan political competition and equal political opportunities. Also, the middle classes involved the June uprising.

Therefore, it is evident that Western concept of democracy can be applied to Korea, one of Asian countries. While the process of the June uprising was democratic, the outcomes of it were not democratic regarding to unchanged authoritarian political nature and people’s voting behaviours. It is asserted that authoritarianism in Korean politics was not change at all in terms of the government, the oppositions, and non-democratic law. Firstly, Roh Tae Woo, Chun Doo Hwan’s successor from also military background, was elected as the president through the first practice of democratic voting.

Democratic transition did not bring fundamental change in “the authoritarian nature of political leadership” (Shin 249). Secondly, the opposition parties has authoritarian nature so people had no voice in the parties. Furthermore, South Korea’s political parties are still built around one man, usually a dominant leader who brooks little dissent and demands personal loyalty. Park Jyun Kyu, chairman of the governing Democratic Justice Party stated that ”To be frank, all our parties, including the three opposition parties, are organized by one or two people. ” (Chira 1).

Thirdly, the National Security Law’s abusive use is the case of Kim Keun Tae, an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience and a past recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Awards. Kim Keun Tae persistently campaigned for democracy and labor rights. Even after the June uprising, he was repeatedly jailed and tortured. In a democracy, it must be no more than the exercise of free speech, not a criminal offense (Jung). People’s voting behavior is not democratic. They shows an strong regionalism and their inexperience on democratic voting. People voted according to regionalism.

For example, Roh was strong in Taegue and Northg Kyungsang province, Kim Young-sam in Busan and South Kyngsang province and Kim Dae-Jung in Kwangju and Chunchu and two Cholla provinces of North and South (Lee 47). Also, there were still a lot of uneducated and ill-informed voters. They voted for the candidate who gave them some money or gifts such as “$20 or $30, or for towels, soaps, free trips, or other goods” (Lee 47). Many scholars believe that the June uprising is the transition point from dictatorships to representative democracy that is often considered as the form of “Liberal democracy”.

However, it raised a question that “did all people desire the same concept of democracy? ” and if not, “was this uprising really successful? “. It is argued that in the view of the students and labors, the main actors of the June uprising, this event is not successful but fail. The goal of the middle classes was just direct election (Saxer 77) whereas students and labors seemed to intend to acquire ‘social democracy’ that emphasis on the concept of equality, social justice and community (Potter 232).

After the 6. 9 Democracy Declaration, the middle classed stopped supporting any further demonstrations (Potter 237& Saxer 77). They then rather supported law and order “in the name of stability” (Saxer 77). The students and labors were also excluded from the government and opposition. The political elite wanted political stability (Saxer 77). The Chun government realised that if the direct election was not offered to the public, the government would face more risks, for example, a bloody civil war, loss of the Olympic Games, etc (Lee 39).

So, in this aspect, the June uprising was not successful. The June 29th Declaration (by government candidate Roh Tae Woo) was a deceptive move to prevent the full success of the popular uprising. In conclusion, this essay looked at the June Uprising in 1987 in South Korea, related to democracy. The June uprising is democracy in action because it presented the idea of representative democracy and it clearly revealed that Western democracy can be applied to Asia.

On the other hand, the June uprising is criticised due to the results of the event that it did not bring significant change in Korean politics. Authoritarian nature was not diminished and people’s voting behaviour was still remained as non-democracy. In addition, it was sceptical whether the transition of democracy was valid for the June uprising. It is because as the demonstrators were divided, the main aim of the event was ignored. The June uprising is a meaningful event to worth examining more deeply.

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