Constitution of Korea
The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is government by a constitution, which is its basic law. It was promulgated on July 17, 1948, and last revised in 1987, having been amended or almost wholly re-written nine times.
The Constitution was first amended in 1952 ahead of President Syngman Rhee's re-election, providing for direct presidential elections and a bicameral legislature. It was passed with procedural irregularities after fierce debate. But in 1954, Rhee again forced an amendment, removing term limits for himself and emphasizing a capitalistic economic model.
Facing widespread public protests against these moves, the Second Republic began with the more democratic 1960 Constitution, creating a cabinet, a bicameral legislature, an election commission, and a constitutional commission. It also provided for elections for supreme court justices and provincial governors, as well as natural law-based individual rights.
With the 1961 coup d’état by Park Chung-hee, the 1960 version was nullified, and in 1962, the Third Republic's Constitution was passed, with additional similarities to the U.S. Constitution, such as nominal judicial review functions. In 1972, Park extended his rule with the Fourth Republic constitution, called the Yusin Constitution, providing for an indefinite presidential term and more centralized power.
After Park was assassinated in 1979, the Fifth Republic began with the 1980 Constitution under President Chun Doo-hwan, providing for a somewhat weaker president, indirectly elected, an unicameral legislature, and a cabinet system.
With the pro-democratic protests of 1987, the 1988 Constitution of the Sixth Republic was passed. The constitutional bill was passed by the National Assembly on October 12, 1987, and approved by 93 percent in a national referendum on October 28, taking effect on February 25, 1988, when Roh Tae Woo was inaugurated as president.
Summary of the Constitution:
Consisting of a preamble, 130 articles, and supplementary provisions, the Constitution provides for an executive branch headed by a president and an appointed prime minister, a unicameral legislature called the National Assembly, and a judiciary consisting of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and lower courts.
The President is elected by direct popular vote, and limited to a single five-year term. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly. Although not required by the Constitution, the President also appoints members of the cabinet. President Kim Dae-jung changed to the cabinet system.
The National Assembly consists of at least 200 (presently 299) members elected to four-year terms. The Supreme Court's chief justice is appointed by the president and up to 13 other justices appointed by the president on recommendation of the chief justice with the approval of the National Assembly. Each justice serves a six-year term.
The Constitution declares South Korea a democratic republic, its territory consisting of "the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands," and that "Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the principles of freedom and democracy."
Individuals may not be punished, placed under preventive restrictions, or subjected to involuntary labor except as provided by law. Those detained or arrested must be informed of the reason and of their right to an attorney, and family members must be informed. Warrants must be issued by a judge "through due procedures," and accused persons may sue for wrongful arrest in certain cases.However, individual rights are qualified by other constitutional provisions and pre-existing laws, including the National Security Act, which restricts due process rights in political offense cases.
In Article 119, stable and balanced growth rates, "proper distribution of income," and preventing "abuse of economic power" are explicitly listed as goals of the government. The regulatory goal to "democratize the economy through harmony among economic agents" in the same article reflects the strong prevalence of traditional Korean values and the close relationship between politics and the economy. Article 125 designates foreign trade as a strategic area to be fostered, regulated and coordinated by the state. The Constitution affirms both the right and the duty to work, requiring regulation of minimum wages and working conditions. Workers have the right to independent association, collective bargaining, and collective action.
Following the 1987 amendment, the Constitutional Court was established in September 1988. Based on the European model, it is a specialized court that determines the Constitutionality of laws, disputes between governmental entities, Constitutional complaints filed by individuals, impeachments, and dissolution of political parties. Earlier constitutions provided for various forms of judicial review, but the judiciary did not exercise actual independence.
Text of the ROK Constitution:
You can find the text of the Constitution (in English) in a number of locations, including http://english.molab.go.kr/
To locate it click on http://english.molab.go.kr/ then on (1) Resources; (2) Rules and Regulations; (3) Constitution of the R.O.K (on the left under Rules and Regulations...)
K4E Editor: Korea4Expats.com tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated on 2020-09-01
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