The logic of election system change in South Korea: Context, strategy, and institutional choice



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This is a study of election system change in South Korea under authoritarian governments. The purpose of this study is to explain why authoritarian governments found it necessary to frequently alter the rules under which candidates for the National Assembly stood for election. To explain this process, several factors will be focused on. First, this study will identify the types of election system changes that authoritarian governments enacted. Second, it will examine the electoral consequences of each election system change, identifying the extent to which institutional changes affected election outcomes in National Assembly elections. Finally, this study will identify those contextual factors that help explain why Korea¡'s authoritarian governments pursued the electoral system changes they did. The result of these efforts will be a more complete understanding of the political goals authoritarian governments in Korea sought to accomplish altering electoral systems and an assessment of how successfully government goals were attained.

To understand the complexity of the sources of election system change in Korea, this study employs a complementary approach which combines the rational decision model with the constraints and opportunities associated with different electoral institutions. Both rational action and institutional structure are essential complements for an analysis of election system change in Korea. This approach is to better explain why certain types of election system change were made at some times and why different changes were made at other times.

Korea¡'s election system was changed many times and in many ways under authoritarian governments. This study has only focused on six cases. Three of them are major changes and the remaining three cases were minor changes. Major changes are associated with the change in the electoral formula, while minor changes are associated with the change in district boundaries and magnitudes by increasing or decreasing seats. Six election system changes are analyzed in terms of four components of a conceptual framework, including contextual factors that influenced government strategies, the types of strategies that the government employed to alter electoral rules, the electoral rule that the government implemented, and election outcomes produced by election system change.

The findings are as follows: first, there was no single strategy employed by authoritarian governments to maintain their statuses as ruling parties. Not only a seat-maximization strategy, but also a status-maintenance strategy were important sources of election system change in Korea. Second, authoritarian governments in Korea wanted to increase their legitimacy by being able to survive democratic elections and to rule with a cooperative National Assembly which required that they sometimes give into demands made by the opposition. Third, election system changes were initiated when government parties were uncertain about their ability to win an upcoming election. Moreover, when governments implemented election system changes, they considered what impact rule changes would have on the electoral strength and fragmentation of the oppositions.



Seat-maximization, Election system change, Government strategy