The government of the Republic of Korea was launched on August 15, 1948. Three months earlier, the first members (198) of the National Assembly had been elected in the country’s first general election held under UN supervision. On July 17 of the same year, the first National Assembly promulgated the Constitution. Its members elected Rhee Syngman as the first President on July 20. Rhee Syngman was widely known both in and out of the country as a leader of the country’s independence movement. The 3rd UN General Assembly held in Paris in December of that year passed a resolution that the government established in the south of the 38th parallel was the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula.
The country’s Constitution was promulgated on July 17, 1948 after a month and half of work for its enactment. The government observes it as a national holiday. The first amendment to the Constitution was made in July 1952, while the 9th and last amendment was passed by referendum on October 27, 1987. The country’s Constitution adopts liberal democracy as the basic principle of governance. The Constitution guarantees the people’s freedom and rights under various laws. It also guarantees equal opportunities in all sectors, including politics, economy, society and culture, and recognizes the necessity of establishing a welfare state.
The Constitution also stipulates that all people have the obligation to pay taxes, engage in national defense, educate their children, and work. The Constitution states that the country should endeavor to maintain international peace. It stipulates that international treaties signed by the country and generally accepted international laws have the same effects as domestic laws. Under the Constitution, the status of aliens is guaranteed in accordance with international laws and treaties.
Executive, Legislative, and the Judiciary
The National Assembly is an institution that represents the people’s opinions. All the laws of the country are made by the National Assembly. At present, the National Assembly has 300 fixed member, each of whom is elected for a term of four years. The National Assembly is composed of 246 members elected in local constituencies and 54 members elected by political parties for the purpose of proportional representation. The latter are meant for vocational representation. The first National Assembly was launched in May 31, 1948. The 20th National Assembly was formed through the general elections on April 13, 2016. The National Assembly building is located in Yeouido near the Hangang River that flows through Seoul. The National Assembly is composed of 253 members elected in local constituencies and 47 members elected through proportional representation. The latter are meant as a means of bringing persons with specific professional expertise into the assembly. As of June 2018, the ruling party is the Democratic Party of Korea, due to its plurality in the legislature. The leading opposition party is the Liberty Korea Party. The executive right of the government is exercised by the Executive Branch headed by the President. At present, the President is elected through a direct election for a term of five years. Under the Constitution, the President cannot be reelected for a second term. President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10, 2017, after winning the presidential election held the previous day. The Cabinet Meeting, in which the President and the Prime Minister serve as the Chair and the Vice Chair, respectively, deliberates on important policies under the rights accorded to the Executive Branch of the government. In the absence of the President, the Prime Minister controls the ministries of the government on his/her behalf. As of June 2018, the Executive Branch of the government operates 23 ministries, 17 administrative authorities, 2 boards, 4 offices, and 6 committees. The Judiciary Branch of the government is composed of the Supreme Court, appellate courts, district courts, family courts, administrative courts, and the patent court among others. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly, and other Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Chief Justice. The term for the Chief Justice and justices is six years.
Besides the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary Branches of the government, a number of other agencies carry out their respective independent functions. The Constitutional Court has the right to review whether a specific law is unconstitutional, to judge an appeal for the impeachment of a high-ranking official, and decide on the disbandment of a political party under the Constitution. The Constitutional Court is composed of three judges appointed by the President, three judges appointed by the National Assembly, and three judges appointed by the Supreme Court Chief Justice. The President of the Constitutional Court is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly. The National Election Commission handles matters associated with elections, fair management of referendums, political parties, and political funds. A member of the commission is not allowed to join a specific political party or engage in political activities. Their term is six years. The chairman is elected from among the members. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) performs the role of respecting and realizing the dignity and values of human beings as sovereign individuals by protecting and promoting their basic rights. The commission was launched in November 2001 in light of the people’s earnest desire for improvement of the country’s human rights conditions expressed during the democratization process. The commission also handles cases concerning human rights infringement or discrimination involving a foreigner residing or working in the country
The country adopted the local autonomous system in June 1995. The Local Autonomy Act was enacted in 1949, but local autonomy was not implemented during the period of political upheaval, including the Korean War, the April 1960 Student Revolution, the May 1961 Coup d’état. Local governments are divided into high-level and low-level local governments. With the inclusion of Sejong Special Autonomous City in July 2012, the number of high-level local governments was increased to seventeen (i.e. Seoul Special City, six metropolises, eight provinces, and Jeju Special Self-Governing Province). The number of low-level local authorities stands at 226 (75 cities, 82 counties, and 69 districts). The heads of local governments and councilors are elected through direct election. The term for local government heads is four years, and they can be reelected for up to three terms. There is no limit on how many terms a local councilor may serve. The local autonomous system is very significant as a means of realizing the goal of grassroots democracy through local residents’ participation.
The Korean Peninsula (lat. 33˚ - 43˚; long. 124˚ - 132˚) lies in the middle of Northeast Asia, flanked by China to its west and Japan to its east. The peninsula is 950km long longitudinally and 540km wide latitudinally. The total area of South Korea is 100,364 ㎢. Excluding the northern end, which is joined to the Asian continent, the peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides, with flat land and mountains accounting for 30% and 70% of the entire territory, respectively. Mountains over 1,000m above sea level make up only 15% of the mountainous areas, while mountains lower than 500m account for 65%. The Taebaeksan Mountain Range forms the backbone of the peninsula, with the eastern part of the range rising higher than the western part. Rivers, both small and large, originate from the high mountainous areas in the east and flow toward the West and South Seas, forming plains suitable for grain cultivation.
The climate created by the mountainous areas in the east has an impact on people’s lives. The easterly wind’s passage across the mountainous areas is subject to the Foehn effect, creating a warm and dry wind in the western downwind side of the mountain range. People living in the areas to the east of the high mountains experience considerable inconveniences with regard to transportation, as these areas have undergone very little development compared to the area to the west of the high mountains. However, the slow pace of development has brought at least one advantage to local residents: the natural sceneries have remained unspoilt and many people now choose these areas as travel destinations. The East Sea has a relatively straight, featureless coastline, and the difference between high and low tide is only 30cm. However, the sea along the coast is generally deeper than 1,000m. According to the result of a sonar measurement carried out by the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration, the deepest part of the East Sea lies in the area north of Ulleungdo Island (2,985m deep). In contrast, the sea along the West Sea is shallow, which has led to the formation of wide tidal flats.
Source: Korean Culture and Information Service 'Facts about Korea'