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Summary

Korea’s National Assembly was established on May 31, 1948.  On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was proclaimed.  The National Assembly building has been located in Yeouido, Seoul since 1975.

South Korea is a democratic republic with a presidential system of government.  In addition to its legislative power, the National Assembly decides upon budget bills submitted by the Executive.  The National Assembly also consents to the conclusion of treaties and declarations of war. 

The National Assembly may recommend the removal of the Prime Minister or a state council member from office.  The National Assembly may also pass motions for the impeachment of the President and other officials and justices.

The National Assembly is unicameral and has three hundred members.  The next election will be held in 2016.  In the last election in 2012, two major parties competed for the majority of seats, but many small parties are also represented.

Bills are sent to relevant committees after introduction.  If the committee does not repeal the bill, it is sent to the plenary session.  In some cases, a bill may be sent to another committee before the plenary session.  When the bill is passed by the plenary session, it is sent to the President for promulgation.

I.  Background

A.  Establishment of South Korean Government After World War II

After World War II the Allied Powers temporarily divided Korea along the thirty-eighth parallel between north and south.  North Korea soon became a Communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union.[1]  In the south, the United States military governed the area.  To establish an independent government, the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea was formed to assist and supervise the first election of a national assembly.  Constitutional Assembly elections were held on May 10, 1948.  The National Assembly was established on May 31, 1948.  The National Assembly adopted a Constitution[2] that established a presidential form of government.  On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was proclaimed.[3] 

The first Constitution was amended in 1952 and 1954, and succeeded by new versions in 1960, 1963, 1972, 1980, and 1987.  The 1963 Constitution was amended in 1969.  Constitutions were disregarded with varying degrees by South Korea’s presidents.  Until Kim Yongsam’s presidency (1993–1997), South Korea had frequently been described as a dictatorship or military dictatorship.  Recognition of constitutional obligations began under the presidency of Roh Tae Woo (1988–1993) and continued under Kim Yongsam.[4] 

B.  Political Parties

It appears that political parties have short lives.  Some two hundred political parties have formed since World War II.[5]  One scholar described the situation as follows: “[political parties] may sprout, but few grow, most shortly wither, and only the exceptions flourish for a season or two, but then are transmogrified into a new incarnations and names.”[6]  Political leaders do not emerge through parties.  As explained by another scholar, “[t]he leader does not represent the party: rather it is the other way around; the party constitutes the leader’s support network.”[7]

C.  Building

The National Assembly building is located in Yeouido, Seoul.  It did not have its own building for the first twenty-five years.  In 1948, the Constituent Assembly opened in the conference room of the former City Hall in Seoul.  After the Korean War broke out, the Assembly held sessions in provisional chambers, moving around southern cities such as Daegu and Busan.  The Assembly later returned to the annex building of the City Hall in Seoul.  The construction of a new National Assembly building finally began in 1969, was completed in August 1975, and officially dedicated to the National Assembly on September 2, 1975.[8]

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II.  Constitutional Status and Role

The current 1987 Constitution declares South Korea a democratic republic[9] and establishes a presidential system.[10]  The President, who is elected by nationwide direct ballot, is the head of state[11] and serves a single five-year term.[12]  The President appoints public officials, including the Prime Minister and heads of executive agencies.[13]  The President performs his executive functions through the State Council, which is made up of fifteen to thirty members, including the President and Prime Minister.[14]  The appointment of the Prime Minister must be approved by the National Assembly.[15]  Other members of the State Council are appointed by the President upon recommendation of the Prime Minister.[16] 

The Constitution vests legislative power in the National Assembly.[17]  The President may attend and address the National Assembly or express his views by written message.[18]  The National Assembly also deliberates and decides upon the national budget bill.[19]  When the Executive plans to issue national bonds or to conclude contracts that may incur financial obligations on the state outside of the budget, it must have the prior concurrence of the National Assembly.[20]  Further, the National Assembly gives its consent to the conclusion and ratification of treaties, declarations of war, the dispatch of armed forces to foreign states, and the stationing of alien forces in the territory of South Korea.[21]

The National Assembly may also pass a recommendation for the removal of the Prime Minister or a state council member from office.  Such a recommendation for removal may be introduced by one-third or more of the total members of the National Assembly, and must be passed with the concurrent vote of a majority of the total members of the National Assembly.[22]  Further, in cases where the President, Prime Minister, members of the State Council, heads of executive ministries, judges, or other public officials have violated the Constitution or other acts in the performance of their official duties, the National Assembly may pass motions for their impeachment.[23]  A motion for the impeachment of the President may be proposed by a majority of the total members of the National Assembly but must be approved by two-thirds or more of the total members of the National Assembly.  A motion for impeachment of other officials may be proposed by one-third or more of the total members of the National Assembly, and requires a concurrent vote of a majority of the total members of the National Assembly for passage.[24]

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III.  Structure and Composition

The National Assembly is unicameral.  It is composed of three hundred publicly elected members.[25] 

The Speaker of the National Assembly represents the National Assembly, regulates its proceedings, maintains order, and supervises its affairs.[26]  The Speaker and Deputy-Speaker of the National Assembly are elected by the votes of a majority of all the members.[27]  When a member is elected as the Speaker, he or she cannot be registered in any party from the day following the election and throughout his or her term of office.[28]  The term of the Speaker and Deputy-Speaker is two years.[29]

There are sixteen standing committees in the National Assembly, including the House Steering Committee, the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the National Policy Committee, and the Strategy and Finance Committee.[30]  The National Assembly can also establish special committees, as necessary.[31]

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IV.  Elections

The term of office of members of the National Assembly is four years.[32]  The last election for National Assembly members was held in 2012.[33]  Therefore, the next election will be held in 2016.

The National Assembly is composed of three hundred members, 246 elected by a plurality of votes from electoral districts and fifty-four through a proportional representation system where seats are distributed to parties based on the percentage of total votes they garnered.[34] 

In the 2012 election, voter turnout was 54.26%.[35]  Two major parties competed in the election.  The Saenuri Party won 152 seats out of three hundred, while the Democratic United Party won 127.[36]  As in the previous several elections, around 30% of representatives in the National Assembly were first-time representatives in 2012.[37]

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V.  Legislative Process

Bills may be introduced by members of the National Assembly or by the Executive.[38]  When National Assembly members propose a bill, the concurrence of ten or more National Assembly members is required.[39]  Where a bill accompanying measures on budgets or funds is proposed by members or submitted by the Executive, a written estimate of anticipated expenses related to execution of the relevant bill must be submitted at the same time.[40]  When a bill is proposed or submitted, the Speaker distributes it to the National Assembly members, reports it to the plenary session, and transmits it to the competent standing committee.  After completion of examination by the standing committee, the Speaker refers it to the plenary session.[41]  When a bill involves considerable outlays from the budget or other funds, the competent committee examining the bill must consult with the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts.[42]  Any bill that a committee has determined will not be referred to the plenary session is automatically repealed, unless thirty or more members request that it be sent to the plenary session within seven days of such committee decision.[43]

A bill passed by the National Assembly is transferred by the Speaker to the President, and the President promulgates the bill within fifteen days.[44]  If the President objects to the bill, he or she may return it to the National Assembly and request that it be reconsidered within the fifteen-day period.[45]  The President cannot propose amendments.[46]  If the National Assembly repasses the bill in the original form with the attendance of more than one-half of the total members, and with a concurrent vote of two-thirds or more of the members present, it becomes an act.[47]

A budget bill is formulated and submitted to the National Assembly by the Executive within ninety days before the beginning of each fiscal year.  The National Assembly must decide upon it within thirty days before the beginning of the fiscal year.[48]  If the budget bill is not passed by the beginning of the fiscal year, the Executive may, in conformity with the budget of the previous fiscal year, disburse funds for certain continuation purposes until the budget bill is passed by the National Assembly.[49]

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Prepared by Sayuri Umeda
Foreign Law Specialist
January 2016


[*] At present there are no Law Library of Congress research staff members versed in Korean. This report has been prepared by the author’s reliance on practiced legal research methods and on the basis of relevant legal resources, chiefly in English, currently available in the Law Library and online

[1] Hidden Korea, Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/hiddenkorea/history.htm (last visited Dec. 7, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/WLC6-K7JJ.

[2] Constitution of the Republic of Korea, July 17, 1948.

[3] South Korea Under United States Occupation, 1945–48, in Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, South Korea: A Country Study (Andrea Matles Savada & William Shaw eds., 1990), http://countrystudies. us/south-korea/9.htm (last visited Dec. 7, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/WKU5-RT37.

[4] Keith Pratt & Richard Rutt, Constitution, (2) South Korea, in Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary 90 (2013).

[5] David I. Steinberg & Myung Shin, From Entourage to Ideology? Tensions in South Korean Political Parties in Transition 2 (East-West Center Working Papers, Politics, Governance, and Security Series, No. 9, Aug. 2005), http://www.eastwestcenter.org/system/tdf/private/PSwp009.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=32081, archived at https://perma.cc/TRJ9-UJKQ.  Parties are listed on the National Assembly’s website, at http://korea.assembly. go.kr/int/past_03.jsp (last visited Dec. 9, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/P8MH-Y9NH.

[6] Id. at 1.

[7] Geir Helgesen, Democracy in South Korea 28, 35 (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies [NIAS] Reports No. 18, revised ed. 1995), quoted in Steinburg & Shin, supra note 5, at 1.

[8] NA Building in the Past, National Assembly, http://korea.assembly.go.kr/int/past_05.jsp (last visited Dec. 7, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/XL3C-LH37.

[9] Constitution of Republic of Korea art. 1(1), Constitution No. 10, Oct. 29, 1987, translated in Statutes of the Republic of Korea, http://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=1&lang=ENG, archived at https://perma.cc/XHC5-R2EJ.  

[10] Id. art. 66.

[11] Id. arts. 66(1) & 67(1).

[12] Id. art. 70.

[13] Id. arts. 78, 86(1), 87(1), 94, 98(2), 104 (1)(2).

[14] Id. arts. 87, 88.

[15] Id. art. 86(1).

[16] Id. art. 87(1).

[17] Id. art. 40.

[18] Id. art. 81.

[19] Id. art. 54(1).

[20] Id. art. 58.

[21] Id. art. 60.

[22] Id. art. 63.

[23] Id. art. 65(1).

[24] Id. art. 65(2).

[25] Members, National Assembly, http://korea.assembly.go.kr/int/org_03.jsp (last visited Dec. 7, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/NG2E-356D.

[26] National Assembly Act, Act No. 5, Oct. 2, 1948, amended by Act No. 11453, May 25, 2012, art. 10, translated in Statutes of the Republic of Korea, http://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=25732&lang=ENG, archived at https://perma.cc/4MML-7VXU.

[27] Id. art. 15.

[28] Id. art. 20-2.

[29] Id. art. 9.

[30] Committees, National Assembly, http://korea.assembly.go.kr/int/org_06.jsp (last visited Dec. 7, 2015), archived at https://perma.cc/3FGD-YQGC.

[31] Id.

[32] Constitution art. 42.

[33] 19th National Assembly Election Results Map, Korea Herald (Apr. 12, 2012), http://www.koreaherald. com/view.php?ud=20120412001212, archived at https://perma.cc/XTJ5-96K3.

[34] National Assembly, supra note 25.

[35] Voter Turnout Data for Korea, Republic of, Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance, http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=KR (last updated Oct. 5, 2011), archived at https://perma.cc/MX66-KTRU

[36] Yongwook Ryu, South Korea’s 2012 National Assembly Elections, East Asia Forum (Apr. 25, 2012), http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/04/25/south-korea-s-2012-national-assembly-elections, archived at https://perma.cc/6XMN-6M7W.

[37] Id.

[38] Constitution art. 52.

[39] National Assembly Act art. 79(1).

[40] Id. art. 79-2.

[41] Id. art. 81(1).

[42] Id. art. 83-2(1).

[43] Id. art. 87.

[44] Constitution art. 53(1); National Assembly Act art. 98.

[45] Constitution art. 53(2).

[46] Id. art. 53(3).

[46] Id. art. 53(4). 

[48] Id. art. 54(2). 

[49] Id. art. 54(3).

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Last Updated: 02/16/2016