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The Second Republic
Home > Korea in brief > The Second Republic


Under the revised Constitution, new elec-tion took place on July 29, 1960 for the fifth National Assembly and the newly created House of Councillors. The Demo-cratic Party which had been in opposition under Syngman Rhee scored a landslide victory in the elections. The Democratic government, led by figurehead President Yun Po-son and Prime Minister Chang Myon, was confronted with numerous difficulties from the start. Students, voci-ferous and proud of their role in toppling the Syngman Rhee regime, showed little restraint in meddling in politics.During the period from April 19, 1960 to May 16, 1961, there were more than 500 major demonstrations by university students, and some 110 by students of high school level and under. In the same period, there were also 45 demonstrations by various labor organizations. On domestic and international political fronts, the Democratic Party regime was staggering under mounting radical development. Among those were mushrooming radical leftist political organizations that clamoured for North-South contact and neutralization of Korea.

The Democratic Party regime called for, as its official policy, reunification of Korea through general elections to be held in South and North Korea under the supervision of the United Nations in accordance with the constitutional procedures of the Republic of Korea. Earlier, the North Korean communists began to launch propaganda offensive by calling for federation of South and North Korea and neutralization of entire Korea.

At about the same time, U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield maintained that the U.S. government should start considering the possibility of reunifying Korea in consultation with other big powers on the basis of the formula that neutralized Austria in 1965. Mansfield's plea emboldened some segments of leftist students and politicians and they began to ask publicly the government to embrace it.

The so-called Inauguration Committee for the National Reunification League at Seoul National University on Nov. 1 called on Prime Minister Chang to visit the United States and the Soviet Union to sound out on the new unification formula. The Inauguration Committee of the Socialist Party on Nov. 28 also issued a statement calling for neutralized reunification. On Nov. 30, the Progressive Party issued a statement saying permanent neutralization of Korea should be considered. At the same time, a socialistic radical group led by Kim Tal-ho on Dec. 7 demanded that a national referendum be held to decide on the issue of neutralization of the country.

The Democratic Party regime got literal-ly bogged down in the mounting pressure from within and without. Despite the situation which had seemingly run out of control, the DP regime, in its latter days, started to show signs that it was finally succeeding in putting the chaotic situation under control. At the same time, it had completed drafting a long-term economic development plan, which succeeding governments made use of.

And there were signs that the noisy demonstrations by students and some of the unruly labor leaders, lacking in support by the general public, began to subside. However, there were people who would not give the regime the time to prove itself. May 16 Coup

In predawn hours of May 16, 1961, military columns led by Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee crossed the Han River into Seoul and seized power, overthrowing the Democratic Party regime. Gen. Park then decreed martial law throughout the country, naming Gen. Chang Do-yong, army chief of staff, as chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committe. When Prime Minister Chang Myon came out from hiding to announce his forced resignation on May 18, the revolutionary committee established the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction which it said would exercise legislative and administrative powers.

The council then went on to enact a law for installing a revolutionary Court and revolutionary Prosecution Office on June 21 under the provisions of another law of its making, the National Reconstruction Extraordinary Measures Law. Its purpose was to root out the old evils. On July 2, 1961, the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction named Gen. Park Chung-hee as its chairman. On March 24, 1962, two days after President Yun Po-son announced his resignation, the Supreme Council resolved to accept his resignation and named its chairman to act as President until the government was turned over to civilians.


On Dec.17, 1962, the military government conducted a national referendum on a constitutional revision to revive the presidential system of government, and it was announced that the amendment had been approved by 78.78 percent of the valid votes. On Dec. 27, 1962, the military leaders, in violation of their own pledge, declared that they would participate in the civilian government to be established the following year.

The declaration drew concerted attacks from the civilian politicians and the people. On top of the resulting confusion, power struggles had developed within the military junta rending the closed ranks of the military officers engaged in self-imposed task of rebuilding the nation. Then charges of corruption and impropriety were leveled against some members of the military junta, and news media reported daily on what was labeled as four major scandals involving the military regime.

Coupled with the serious misdeeds involving some of the junta members, the mounting criticism by civilian politicians and the press threw the nation into a turbulent confusion which demanded some extraordinary step. On Feb. 18, 1963, acting President and Supreme Council Chairman Park Chung-hee publicly came out to renounce his intention to participate in the civilian government he was pledged to install. The opposition politicians and the general public were quick to welcome it.

However, under pressure by his followers who had completed secret organization of a new political party and were ready to come out in the open while all civilian politicians were in fetters, Park changed his mind. On March 16, he convened a press conference to announce that he had decided to extend the military government for four more years.However, faced with the strong objection raised by civilian politicians and aggravated public opinion, he again beat a hasty retreat to announce on April 8 that he would shelve the plan. Earlier he had said that he would put the issue of military rule extension to a plebiscite. But he now decided to postpone the proposed referendum until the end of September, and to allow the resumption of political activities immediately.

Following the resumption of party politics proclaimed by the military junta on Jan. 1, 1963, several political parties came into being. Prominent among them was the Democratic Republican Party which the military leaders had organized in secrecy while civilian politicians were barred from any politically motivated activities. On the other hand, opposition political forces were hopelessly split into a half a dozen political parties, failing to offer a united front against their common adversary.

Meanwhile, as summer approached, the price of rice soared and the people started to show growing discontent against the military government. To make the matter worse, the U.S. government made it known that it was withholding shipment of surplus grain aid to Korea. Relations between the governments of the U.S. and Korea had strained to a considerable extent over the uncertainty of Park's intention to surrender his power to a civilian government.

The students hit the streets when it was known that Park's perennial presidency would continue for four more years under the arbitrary electoral college system of Park's own design. The most urgent agenda of the moment for the top leaders of the Park regime was whether to resort to shooting to quell the demonstrations which were intensifying daily. It was during the heated discussion that the KCIA director shot and killed Cha and Park in that order. Other KCIA agents killed four of Park's bodyguards on the spot, effectively ending Park and his 18-year-long rule.