Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

South Korea

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
50,800,000
Capital: 
Seoul
GDP/capita: 
$27,222
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Overview: 

South Korea’s democratic system features regular rotations of power and robust political pluralism, with the two largest parties representing conservative and liberal views. Personal freedoms are generally respected, though the country continues to struggle with minority rights and social integration, especially for North Korean defectors, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and immigrants. The population is also subject to legal bans on pro–North Korean activity, which have sometimes been invoked to curb legitimate political expression.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In April legislative elections, the liberal opposition Minjoo Party won an upset victory, narrowly edging out the ruling conservative Saenuri Party.
  • A scandal that broke in October revealed corruption and extensive interference in state affairs by Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye.
  • In response, protests calling for Park’s resignation ensued across the country, and the National Assembly voted in December to impeach her. The Constitutional Court was considering the matter at year’s end. 
Executive Summary: 

The Minjoo Party’s narrow defeat of the Saenuri Party in April 2016 legislative elections was seen as a rebuke of Park Geun-hye’s performance as president, with voters acting on frustration over a sluggish economy, a growing number of corruption scandals, allegations of abuse of power, mounting tensions with North Korea, and the imposition of a new antiterrorism law that could be used to limit political dissent.

In October, the media exposed a scandal surrounding the relationship between Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil. The president had allegedly allowed Choi to access confidential information and exploit her friendship to influence government affairs and extort money and favors from third parties. Choi was arrested, and multiple investigations were under way at year’s end.

Park initially issued two public apologies for her misconduct, replaced officials who had come under suspicion, and nominated a new prime minister, though the National Assembly quickly rejected her choice, leaving incumbent Hwang Kyo-ahn in office.

Protests calling for Park’s resignation or impeachment steadily grew in size, and the National Assembly ultimately voted to impeach her in early December. Executive authority was transferred to the prime minister pending a Constitutional Court review of the charges against Park. A decision was due within 180 days, after which either a presidential election would be held or Park’s powers would be restored. 

Aggregate Score: 
82
Freedom Rating: 
2.0
Political Rights: 
2
Civil Liberties: 
2

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