Following the proclamation of the Republic of Korea under the name of the Republic of Korea on August 15, 1948, the government transferred to the newly elected parliament and the government led by President Syngman Rhee. Rhee’s presidency was marked by the strong political tension in North Korea that would lead to the Korean War (1950-53). The aging Rhee became after the war increasingly dictatorial, but was forced to resign after the unrest in 1960. The power was taken over by a liberal regime under President Yun Po Sun (1897-1990) and Prime Minister Chang Myon, whose inability to deal with the growing chaos in society in May 1961 led to military takeover by a coup led by Major General Park Chung Hee. During Park’s 18 years in power, the Korean economy was built up purposefully and very successfully, but at the cost of a lack of democracy and suppressed human rights.
After the assassination of Park in October 1979, Prime Minister Choi Kyu Hah (1919-2006) took over as president under the Constitution, but through a military coup, General Chun Doo Hwan seized power in 1980, and with the military’s help, he was elected president for seven years in 1981. Chun’s regime was domestic political authoritarian, while foreign policy was based on continued good relations with the United States and a strict confrontation policy vis-角-vis North Korea. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of South Korea.
In connection with Chun’s departure in 1988, extensive demonstrations demanded direct presidential elections. Faced with the threat that the upcoming Olympic Games in Seoul would be disrupted, Chun met the demands. The ruling candidate of the ruling party, General Roh Tae Woo, pledged ahead of the 1987 elections to implement comprehensive democratic reforms. These pledges in conjunction with the opposition parties’ inability to act jointly gave Roh the victory. The new administration was characterized by a slow but consistent implementation of the democratization program and continued good economic development. However, there was severe political control under the surface. Foreign policy was invested in building diplomatic and economic relations with the countries that were part of the old Eastern bloc. In September 1991, the two Korean states simultaneously joined the UN.
Kim Yong Sam’s victory in the 1992 presidential election meant a peaceful surrender of power to a civilian president for the first time since the coup in 1961. Kim’s administration was characterized by a quest for genuine civilian rule and abandonment of the old authoritarian leadership style and renewed efforts to dialogue with North Korea. In the 1997 presidential election, Kim Dae Jung won the presidential post as the first opposition candidate in South Korea’s history. He took office in February 1998.
During Kim Dae Jung’s term in office, the so-called sunshine policy made great efforts to improve relations with North Korea. As the first South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung made a state visit to North Korea in 2000. He was succeeded as president in 2002 by Roh Moo Hyun, who continued the sunshine policy and also made a state visit to North Korea during his final year as president in 2007. His successor Lee Myung Bak (born 1941) fundamentally re-examined the sunshine policy, which contributed to significantly cooler relations between the two Korean states.
In the 2012 presidential election, Park Geun Hye won, becoming the country’s first female president. She was forced to resign from the 2017 presidential post as a result of corruption charges. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn (born 1957) was acting president of the May elections when Moon Jae In won and was sworn in immediately.
Moon Jae In met in April 2018 North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting led to a joint statement to realize a nuclear-free Korea peninsula.