The many names of South Korean political parties

Democratic Republican Party, Democratic Justice Party, Democratic Liberal Party, New Korea Party, Grand National Party and New Frontier Party. Sounds like many political parties, but all these South Korean party names serve only one party, the right-wing conservative party. In fact the Democratic Republican Party became the Democratic Justice Party in 1980 and then other names followed. In 1997, the conservatives called themselves Grand National Party and since 2012, they call themselves the New Frontier Party. The liberals in South Korea were oppressed by the dictatorial conservatives until the late 1980’s. Their history begins with the Democratic Party of 1992, which also underwent name changes and fusions!

South Korea up to the late 1980’s was a dictatorship, led by the military. These anticommunist militarists were united in the Democratic Republican Party (DRP). Dictator Park Chung-hee, founded this party to serve as his civilian vehicle. Opposition to the DRP was not allowed and other political parties were forced to accept the absolute rule of Park Chung-hee. Although named ”democratic” the DRP was neither a democratic party nor a party that served a civilian republic!

Dictator Park was murdered by the boss of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in 1979. Chun Doo-hwan became the next military installed dictator. He banned all political parties including the DRP in 1980. But three year into the new presidency, the military decided to rebuild their former political mouthpiece as the Democratic Justice Party (DJP), which played the same role as the DRP. Chun Doo-hwan created a new constitution that was less dictatorial, but still not democratic or free as it kept much political power in the hands of the president, which was controlled by the military!

In 1990, the conservatives were forced to accept that their could no longer hide behind anticommunism for dictatorial rule. So they tried to hide their authoritarianism by changing the name of their party to Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). But like its predecessor the new party was deeply reactionary. The DLP was neither liberal nor democratic, it only served to mislead the Koreans into thinking, the conservative party was now a supporter of liberal democratic ideals!

The Peace Democratic Party was among the first liberal parties, tolerated by the conservative leaders of South Korea. Under Park Chung-hee, the party would have been called ”communist” for its liberal ideals and banned. But in 1987, student strikes for free speech and democratic rights, forced dictator Chun Doo-hwan to make reforms. The Peace Democratic Party fused with other democratic minded liberals into the Democratic Party in 1991. In the mid 1990’s, the name of the party was changed to National Congress for New Politics!

Meanwhile the conservatives also changed their name (again). The Democratic Liberal Party became the New Korea Party (NKP) in 1995 after another name change. The NKP only lived for two years, until the conservatives finally decided on a name they would keep for 15 years. In 1997, the Grand National Party (GNP) was created. This conservative party embraced neoconservatism, right-wing Korean nationalism and deep hostility towards leftism. Its ideology did not differ much from the early DRP/DJP/DLP/NKP formations!

On the liberal front, the National Congress for New Politics changed its name to Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) on 20 January 2000. After losing the elections to the Yeollin Uri Party in 2004, the MDP decided to fuse with them to form the United New Democratic Party in 2007. The name was changed again to Democratic Party (DP), a year later in 2008. But the new name did not last long. In 2011, the DP fused into the Democratic United Party which became the Democratic Party again in 2013, only to become the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in 2014 and then the Together Democratic Party on 28 december 2015!

It comes no surprise that many South Koreans are feeling a little confused over so many name changes. The reason is that many political parties split and then fuse again. This very common when a high profiel politicians leaves his party and wins an election. After some years the old feuds are put aside and the politician and his follows fuse with their old mother party again under a new name.

The Grand National Party of the conservatives, won the 2008 and 2012 elections. They were led by the daughter of dictator Park Chung-hee since 2011. She was the First Lady of South Korea from 1974 until 1979, because her father divorced her mother. At age 22, she was a very young First Lady, but Park Geun-hy played her role very well for the military dictatorship of her father. She remained active in conservative politics after the murder of her father and the introduction of democracy. In 2011, Park Geun-hy became the leader of the Grand National Party and won the 2012 presidential election. She is now president of the Republic of Korea like he father was before her. Under her leadership, the conservatives decided to rename themselves into the New Frontier Party!

Political parties to the left of liberalism had very little chances in South Korea. The deep anticommunist climate, made it easy for the government to ban any leftist party that promoted socialism. The criminal KCIA even created a hoax-revolutionary party and blamed leftists in South Korea, to be members of this ”violent communist party”. After arresting and torturing many trade unionists and leftists in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the government was able to eradicate the revolutionary left in the south, all under the eyes of the American CIA!

It was not until the millennium, that trade unionists founded a new leftist party called the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). This new party was anti-imperialist, democratic socialist, but also Korean nationalist. In 2004 they won over 13% of the votes, shocking the whole conservative establishment with their leftist nationalist rhetoric. However there was always the sympathy many in the DLP seemed to have for North Korea. Because both the Workers Party of Korea in the north and the DLP in the south, shared some basic nationalist elements. Also many revolutionary leftists during the conservative dictatorship were blinded by the propaganda of North Korea. Too many idealized Kim Il Sung and his Juche ideal, which made it easy for the dictatorial South Korean government to arrest individual leftists on the grounds that they were pro-North Korea. This is still a crime in the south!

Although progressieve and socialist, there were some DLP members who rejected the nationalist rhetoric of the party leadership. Two factions struggled for control, the radical anti-imperialist group of nationalists who sympathized with the north and the anti-nationalist progressive group that promoted social welfare and civil liberties. In 2007, the Democratic Labor Party split and the anti-nationalists founded the New Progressive Party. During the 2008 elections, the DLP lost five seats and the new NPP won nothing!

In December 2011, the DLP fused with ex-NPP members and a minor leftist party to form the Unified Progressive Party (UPP). This new party was no longer socialist, but radical progressive and leftist nationalist. Still the South Korean government did not liked their rejection of American imperialism and they activism. Three years after the founding of the UPP, the government moved against the party. By calling them ”pro-North Korean” the regime of Park Geun-hy, was able to ban the whole party on 14 December 2014. South Korean conservatives celebrated their victory over this ”North Korean puppet” as the media called the UPP. In reality the secret service of South Korea played a dirty game much like the hoax-revolutionary party incidents of the 1960’s/1970’s. The Unified Progressive Party was banned because its exposed Park Chung-hee as a Japanese colonial soldier, which embarrassed Park Geun-hy. Also its rejection of American imperialism made it not loved by the capitalist establishment!

Before the banning, the UPP had sufferd a split much like the DLP over the nationalist question. Again UPP members who rejected Korean nationalism left and formed their own party in parliament. Their party was called the Progressive Justice Party which changed it name to Justice Party (JP) in July 2013. With the banning of the Unified Progressive Party, its elected representatives were forced to leave office. This made the JP the only leftist party in the South Korean parliament, as the liberals do not oppose or criticize Korean capitalism in anyway!

The anti-nationalist; New Progressive Party joined up with the Socialist Party and both agreed to form one anti-nationalist leftist party. The Labor Party was born on 21 July 2013. Unlike the Democratic Labor Party, this Labor Party rejects nationalism and stands on a democratic socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist program. Because many of its members are anti-North Korea, it would be difficult for the South Korean government to ban the party on the grounds that it is a ”North Korean puppet party”. Still the secret service has proven to be very dirty and know how to fabricate ”evidence” to make a person or political party look ”pro-North Korean”!

Today you have the following political parties in the Republic of Korea

  • New Frontier Party, conservative party. Deeply anticommunist and autocratic
  • Together Democratic Party, liberal party. Supportive of individual freedoms
  • Justice Party, social democratic party. Supports social welfare
  • Labor Party, democratic socialist party. Anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist
  • Green Party, environment party. Supports green politics