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The Social and Political Impact of Economic Crisis in South Korea: A Comparative Note

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The five-year term of President Kim Dae Jung ended up deepening political cleavages in the wake of growing social conflicts. We find it ironic that the Kim Dae Jung regime, the first case of horizontal power transfer through election, has seen social conflicts worsening instead of weakening. Since the economic crisis of 1997, the country has undergone a profound societal and political transformation as a result of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s program of liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation. We investigate the structural realignment - power shift, social conflicts, and coalition change - in the wake of the economic crisis in Korea. We critically examine the impact of various reform measures on state-society relations. Our starting point is a belief that the stability of a regime depends not only on economic performance but also on social and political performance. The current Korean situation might even suggest that social and political factors are more important than economic performance in evaluating structural adjustment programs. We begin by examining the underlying nature of the Kim Dae Jung regime's reform measures. Then we address the social realignment, coalition change, and social conflicts, and assess their implications for consolidation of democracy. Finally we draw some policy implications.


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