Evolution of political parties and the party system in South Korea

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Under authoritarian rule, South Korean politics was dominated by one dominant political party, although others formally existed. In post-democratisation South Korea, two main political parties have dominated the political landscape, alternating between government and opposition. Commonly referred to as conservatives and progressives, the organisations’ official names have changed frequently. Political rebranding has accompanied the process of fission and fusion of political organizations, both before and after elections. These remain largely leader-led and leader-centred, displaying a high level of factionalism and personalism. Although formally a multi-party system, Korea’s party system has been de facto a dual-dominant party one, characterised by a low level of institutionalisation. Its key features are deeply rooted cleavages such as regionalism and ideology, with generation, class and gender emerging in recent years. Similarly to other democratic countries, even in Korea the role of political parties has changed in recent years. Although it is still consequential for political representation and government formation (and crucial to governability), new forms of political participation now bypass and challenge political parties, transforming Korean democracy. Calls for direct participation have grown over time and new forms of online activism have emerged, often playing crucial roles in parliamentary and presidential elections. New electoral laws were introduced in late 2019 to increase the representation and visibility of traditionally under-represented groups in Korean society (women, minorities, refugees, migrant workers) and also to establish, substantially, a fully-fledged multi-party system.

Understanding the origins and transformation of South Korea’s party and party systems is critical to making sense of the country’s main political trends, especially since democratization. Korea’s party system has been a moderate multiparty system with two main parties dominating the political landscape. Its key features are an overall low level of institutionalization and deeply-rooted cleavages such as regionalism and ideology, with generation, class and gender divides emerging in recent years. Political parties, often relabelled following mergers and splits before and after elections, remain largely leader-led and -centred, displaying considerable factionalism and personalism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Contemporary South Korea
EditorsSojin Lim, Niki J. P. Alsford
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781003026150
ISBN (Print)9780367458201
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2021


  • South Korea
  • politics
  • party system
  • political parties
  • coalition
  • participation
  • elections
  • electoral system
  • leadership
  • Culture
  • political cleavages
  • regionalism
  • ideology
  • direct democracy
  • online activism


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