The Korea Herald


A look back at the history of local elections

By Im Eun-byel

Published : June 1, 2022 - 14:44

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Voters cast their ballots at a polling booth in Oksu-dong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap) Voters cast their ballots at a polling booth in Oksu-dong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The 2022 local elections in Korea were held Wednesday, marking the eighth edition of the event since the right to elect local government leaders and assembly members.

The history of local elections in Korea began in 1952 in the midst of the Korean War, with two more such elections held in 1956 and 1960. However, local elections were put on hold for nearly three decades after an authoritarian regime took power in the 1960s.

Former President Park Chung-hee put a stop to the local elections after rising to power through a military coup. Park deemed the provincial self-governance system to be a waste of money, a source of corruption and also most importantly, a threat against his military dictatorship.

Park and his military regime ordered the disbandment of local councils and directly appointed local governors.

Park’s regime ended in 1979, when he was assassinated. Former President Chun Doo-hwan then took the reins until 1988.

Former President Roh Tae-woo, Korea’s first directly elected president, decided to bring back the local elections in 1991, but the elections were unilaterally postponed for political reasons.

The ruling party delayed the elections, as it deemed itself to be at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, the opposition party continued to argue for the elections, thinking that it could enlarge its voice through the system.

In 1990, former President Kim Dae-jung, the then-head of the opposition party, went on a hunger strike for 13 days. This brought back elections for local council members in the following year.

The Kim Young-sam administration became the first government to introduce full-scale local elections in 1995, including elections for the head of local governments. Since then, local elections have been held every four years, making Tuesday’s elections the eighth edition of the event.

In the previous local elections in 2018, the then-ruling Democratic Party of Korea scored a landslide victory, seizing 14 of the 17 metropolitan mayor and governor posts. The opposition Liberty Korea Party, now known as the People Power Party, secured only two posts. The ruling party also swept 11 of the 12 legislative seats for the parliamentary by-elections held on the same day.

The nationwide voter turnout for the previous local elections marked 60.2 percent, significantly lower than the 77.1 percent turnout for the recent presidential election in March.

The 2022 local elections are the first event in Korea which includes high school seniors as candidates. The revisions to the Public Official Election Act was passed last year, lowering the age requirement from 25 to 18 to run for lawmaker, local council member or local government chief.

By Im Eun-byel (