Student Agitation in South Korea 1987

[ 1987 ]

The unpopular Chun regime and its constitutional framework was brought down in 1987 largely by the student agitation that beset the regime. Student activists set the tone and agenda of the society as a whole because the government and the government-controlled press had lost their credibility. The opposition parties worked with the students, although they disagreed on the ultimate aim--the politicians wanted reform, while the students demanded revolution. The opposition politicians wanted constitutional reform to replace the existing system of electing the president through the handpicked electoral college with direct popular election. The students attacked not only the military leaders in power, but also the entire socio-political and economic establishment.

Initially, the public was apathetic to the confrontation between the student demonstrators and government, but the daily fracas on the streets and the never-ending smell of tear gas aroused their ire. The news about the torture and death of a student, Pak Chong-ch'ol, by the police touched the sore nerves of the people. President Chun attempted to squash the opposition by issuing a declaration on April 13, 1987, to suspend the "wasteful debate" about constitutional reform until a new government was installed at the end of his seven-year term. The declaration was, instead, his regime's swan song. Chun wanted to have his successor "elected" by his handpicked supporters; the public greeted the declaration with universal outrage. Even the Reagan administration, which had been taciturn about South Korea's internal politics, urged the Chun government not to ignore the outrage. Finally, on June 29, 1987, Roh Tae Woo, the government party's choice as Chun's successor, made a dramatic announcement in favor of a new democratic constitution that embodied all the opposition's demands.

Related Conflicts

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