South Korea was the most populated part of the two Koreas and suffered the least destruction. In 1958 a harsh National Security Act empowered Syngman Rhee to imprison opponents of any persuasion. Rhee was reelected in 1952, in 1956, and in 1960, in elections that were denounced as fraudulent. There were protests in Seoul and the threat of a revolution forced Rhee to resign on April 27, 1960.
After the elections, he was succeeded by Po Sun Yun, a member of the Democratic Party. The head of government, John Chang, tried to lead the country towards effective economic development and end corruption. In May 1961 a military coup toppled Chang. In July, General Park Chung-hee took command of the junta, suppressing democratic freedoms and jailing participants in the previous government.
The new government initiated a policy of national reconstruction, which included a plan to fight communism and corruption, while promising free elections. In 1963 Park ran for election and won by a meager 1.4%. In response to the widespread protest, he declared martial law and abolished political and union freedoms.
The military regime established centralized economic planning and, with the advice of Western technocrats, South Korea became an exporting country. In 1965 the government signed a treaty with Japan by which it abandoned the demand for war reparations in exchange for financial aid. After the agreement, Japanese capital began to arrive in South Korea.
As a country located in Asia according to HISTORYAAH, the country of South Korea became a powerful industrialized economy, dominated by large Korean-owned multinationals that produce steel, ships, automobiles, and electronics. The low price of cereals impoverished the peasants and forced them to emigrate to the cities. Workers had to endure the worst working conditions in the world (low wages, long hours, little security, etc).
After eighteen years of uninterrupted mandate and four fraudulently won elections, in October 1979, Park was assassinated by the director of the Intelligence Service.
The 17 of maypole of 1980 military reimplanted martial law and arrested members of the opposition. The next day, workers, industrialists and students took the city of Kwangju, in an insurrection that marked the history of the country. The repression was brutal: the army murdered thousands of people. Kim Dae Jung, a prominent opposition leader, was sentenced to life in prison for instigating the protests.
Like his predecessor Park, Chun Doo Hwan tried to legitimize his government and disguise it as a civilian by holding presidential elections in which he triumphed in 1981.
In October 1983 several members of the South Korean cabinet were killed in an attack on the Mausoleum of the Martyrs in Myanmar (Burma), during a state visit. The Burmese claimed to have proof that North Korea was responsible for the attack and broke off diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
The withdrawal of US support for Ferdinando Marcos in the Philippines due to electoral fraud and human rights violations worried the regime, which introduced certain reforms, including the house arrest of Kim Dae Jung and a decrease in censorship.
During 1987, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and factory occupations in an unprecedented wave of protests. They demanded the right to form democratic and independent unions from the ruling Federation of Trade Unions of Korea, salary increases, suspension of compulsory overtime work, and a greater share of the benefits of the country’s spectacular growth.
In July 1987, Chun appointed Roh Tae Woo as his successor and chairman of the Justice and Democracy Party. A wave of protests began expressing concern that Roh, by taking power, would go ahead with the dictatorship. The protesters also called for Chun to respond publicly to the Kwangju massacre in 1980 and to stand trial.
Faced with increasing street and worried about its international image (especially with the proximity of the events Olympic Games of 1988), the government reduced political restrictions during the election campaign of 1987.
In the elections, the newly liberated opposition was altogether a majority, but failed to achieve an alliance between the sector led by Kim Yong Sam of the Democratic Reunification Party and Kim Dae Jung of the Party for Peace and Democracy. The division of the opposition allowed the government to win the elections.
In January 1990 part of the opposition merged with the Justice and Democracy Party and the Liberal Democratic Party was born, which came to control 220 of the 299 seats in the National Assembly. The Party for Peace and Democracy, now only the Democratic Party (PD), remained the only parliamentary opposition.
In an offensive against independent trade unions, in April 1990, the Police invaded the Hyundai shipyard and detained more than 600 trade unionists to end a 72-hour occupation in protest at the arrest of its leaders. A few days later, 400 striking employees were arrested at the station of the Korean Broadcasting System. The ensuing protests caused the biggest share drop in Korean history.
In September 1991 US President George Bush announced the decision to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and in November it was reported that it was being carried out. The event satisfied one of North Korea’s main requirements to allow inspections on its territory.
In December of that year, Seoul and Pyongyang signed a Reconciliation Agreement, non-aggression, exchange and cooperation, which decompressed bilateral relations.
In May 1992, President Roh Tae Woo appointed Kim Young Sam as his successor, who obtained 41.4% of the vote in the presidential elections. Kim’s election coincided with a weakening of the opposition, compounded by the resignation in February 1993 of Chung Ju-Yung, leader of the United People’s Party, accused of having accepted illegal contributions from a large company during the election campaign.