While popular movements in South Korea rightly grab the headlines for forcing political change and holding leaders to account, those movements are only part of the story of the construction and practice of democracy. In Top-Down Democracy in South Korea, Erik Mobrand documents another part – the elite-led design and management of electoral and party institutions. Even as the country left authoritarian rule behind, elites have responded to freer and fairer elections by entrenching rather than abandoning exclusionary practices and forms of party organization.
Exploring South Korea’s political development from 1945 through the end of dictatorship in the 1980s and into the twenty-first century, Mobrand challenges the view that the origins of the postauthoritarian political system lie in a series of popular movements that eventually undid repression. He argues that we should think about democratization not as the establishment of an entirely new system, but as the subtle blending of new formal rules with earlier authority structures, political institutions, and legitimizing norms.
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