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Candidate Selection Reform in South Korea: The Persistence of Exclusive Practices Despite Inclusive Rules

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This paper analyzes how democratization has affected the dynamics of candidate selection in South Korea. After democratization in the late 1980s, it was expected that intra-party democracy would follow. In response to increasing public demand, the major parties adopted primary systems in the early 2000s. Nonetheless, most candidates for the legislature are still nominated by a small number of central party elites without additional ballots in the local branches. To explain the persistence of such exclusive, centralized features of candidate selection, I highlight the limited impact democratization has had on the political environment in which the parties operate. More specifically, since the 1987 democratization process resulted in a compromise agreement established by a small number of party leaders, South Korea retained much of the political legacy from authoritarian times, such as an electoral system advantageous to the major parties and legal provisions restricting electoral campaigns, party activities, and political participation. The continuation of these political institutions makes radical candidate selection reform highly unlikely as the party elites have no incentive to expand and decentralize the selection process. Without significant changes to the political institutions at the national level, the dominance of the central party elite over the final outcome of candidate selection looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2020

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