Choong Nam Kim: Korean Election Results Won't Guarantee Reform

Date: 04-19-2004

Nation Remains 'Sharply Divided'

HONOLULU (April 16) -- While some Koreans have called the results of the South Korean election a new era in politics there, an East-West Center specialist said he doesn't expect real reform or change in a country that continues to be deeply divided.

"This is not a new beginning," said Choong Nam Kim, who specializes in Korean politics and the U.S.-Korea relationship. Kim noted that presidents have called for reform since 1993 without success. "President Roh Moo Hyun and the Uri Party have no clear agenda. They have emphasized change and reform but lacked details."

Yesterday's election saw the pro-Roh Uri Party win a slight majority in the National Assembly, handing the legislature over to liberal control and taking it away from the conservative Grand National Party. A conservative coalition impeached Roh, and analysts say the liberal victory was a backlash against the impeachment. The Constitutional Court will determine whether the impeachment stands.

Kim said the results do not mean overwhelming support for the Uri Party; three weeks ago the Grand National Party was almost "completely sinking" but returned strongly with some candidates only narrowly defeated. Although Koreans do not support the Grand National Party, he believes they also distrust the Uri Party.

"Korea is still sharply divided and President Roh and his party have very far to go to build a consensus for a national goal."

Since 1993, the political agenda has called for reform and change, said Kim, who served as assistant for public relations for President Kim Young Sam from 1994-1996. "But they don't know how to do it. As a result, Korean distrust in politics and government has reached a dangerous level." Even if Roh and supporters control the presidency and legislature, "how can they fundamentally change the nation?"

He expects legislative moves to abolish the National Security Law, the government to take a more independent diplomatic course, and anti-American moves to grow.

Choong Nam Kim can be reached at (808)944-7372 or

This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center