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
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.