History up to World War II (see Korea)
On August 15, 1948, the republic was established in the southern zone of the Korean Peninsula with the capital of Seul. Syngman Rhee was named the first President of the Republic. With the support of a very significant number of US military, economic and political advisers, he ruled southern Korea over the following 14 years. He passed laws and adopted a constitution that made him a dictator for life. He exposed those of his compatriots suspected of cooperation with the republic in the north of severe repression.
According to COUNTRYAAH, the United States unconditionally supported Rhee and led him to implement comprehensive land reform. The North Americans were very much aware that the reason why the nationalist Kuomintang party in China had been beaten by Mao’s Communists was the latter’s slogan: “The earth to those who worship it”. The United States land reform meant that landlords received compensation and all farmers received up to 3 acres of land. The land that had belonged to the Japanese was also redistributed. Many members of the expropriated citizenship emigrated to the cities.
In 1958, a new National Security Act gave Rhee the opportunity to send opposites to prison – regardless of their political tendencies. Rhee was “re-elected” in 1952, 1956 and 1960. The last election was rejected by the opposition, which considered it to be fraught with fraud. Protest protests broke out in Seul, but they were severely beaten. The rising opposition and the danger of a public revolt forced Syngman Rhee to resign on April 27, 1960. He was followed by a transitional figure, Huh Chung Tok.
1960 Brief democratic intermezzo
New elections were held and Po Sun Yun of the Democratic Party was elected president. John Chang was appointed head of government. He was to initiate effective economic development and clean up the existing corruption. A number of the ministers in his government advocated rapprochement with North Korea.
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In May 1961, a military coup was carried out which brought Chang to a fall and replaced him with a military junta with General Chan Yung at the head. In July, General Park Chung Hee was in charge of the junta, abolished all democratic rights and jailed members of the former government.
The new regime initiated a «national reconstruction policy» which contained a plan for fighting against communism and corruption. At the same time, the regime promised free elections when its “revolutionary duties” were completed. In March 1962, Po Sun Yun was replaced by Park as president. He felt strong enough to stand for presidential election in late 1963, but gained only 1.4% of the vote. His reaction to the poor election result was to put the country in a state of emergency. The military took full control of political life and began a period of hard-won dictatorship.
The military government initiated economic development based on a centralized planned economy under the advice of Western technocrats. South Korea was transformed into an export-oriented economy. Imports, exports, commodity prices and access to credit were used as leverage to control and guide economic development. Laws were introduced that restricted the right to union organization, strikes and collective bargaining. South Korea’s economy had been devastated by the war, largely based on agricultural production and indebtedness. But land reform and the implementation of centralized economic planning allowed for the rapid development of a strong industrial economy dominated by large Korean corporations producing steel, ships, cars and electronic appliances.
The price of agricultural products was kept down, forcing many farmers to emigrate to the cities in search of work and participation in the “Korean miracle”. As workers were, however, forced to work for very low wages, very long working weeks and in the worst working conditions in the world, but this extreme exploitation of labor was also the basis for the South Korean capitalism rapid capital accumulation.