In December 1987, the first democratic direct and free presidential election in South Korean history took place, and it was arguably considered to be fair and legitimate in terms of the election process and the final results, generally with no obvious indications of fraud or abuses of power by the ruling party. In terms of being “direct” and “free,” it was "direct" in that it was based on popular vote of the electorate (which has occurred a few times in South Korean history), but it was also "free" in that all competing candidates/parties (including reform/opposition candidates/parties) were essentially offered equal opportunities in this election (which had never occurred in South Korean history).
It has been reported that the voter turnout was approximately 89% of the eligible voters. There were a total of four candidates – Roh Tae-Woo (ruling party), Kim Young-Sam (long-time reform and pro-democracy/opposition leader), Kim Dae-Jung (also a long-time reform and pro-democracy/opposition leader) and Kim Jong-Pil (with old-line ruling party roots). Roh Tae-Woo ultimately won the election with approximately 37% of the popular votes and became the 6th President of South Korea/Republic of Korea, beating out the two reform/opposition leaders Kim Young-Sam (28% of the votes) and Kim Dae-Jung (27% of the votes), with Kim Jong-Pil only receiving 8% of the direct/popular votes. It has often been noted that the division among the two reform/opposition leaders – Kim Young-Sam and Kim Dae-Jung – certainly had a profound impact on the outcome of this pivotal election.
Prior to this 1987 Presidential Election, South Korea’s national/presidential politics suffered from autocratic rulers based on indirect elections, abuses of power, as well as military coups d’etat.
NOTE: The Constitution and the amended Presidential Election Act of 1987 provided for election of the president by direct, secret ballot, and the president, since 1987, has been directly elected to a five-year term with no possibility of re-election (one term only). Since the 1987 presidential election, South Korea has largely experienced orderly elections for the presidency.
First Democratic Presidential Election