SDO-Government Relations, History
Korea, Taiwan

Popular Mobilization and Democratization: A Comparative Study of South Korea and Taiwan

Jai Kwan Jung (Korea Observer)

Abstract: What is the role of popular mobilization in the process of democratization? Based on a thorough critique of the elite-centric perspective in the literature of democratic transitions, this paper proposes an alternative view. If popular mobilization played a significant role in the initial phase of regime transition, it is likely to have an enduring effect on the development of democracy in the period that follows, because the collective memory of advancing democracy from below shapes citizens’ favorable attitudes toward direct civic action and increases their commitment to democracy. A comparison between South Korea and Taiwan’s paths toward democracy effectively shows how this dynamic operates. While the Korean democratization movement successfully mobilized a massive wave of protests in response to the opening of political space, such a large scale of popular mobilization was absent in Taiwan. The difference in this distinct feature of the early phase of transition appears to be reflected in the degree of public confidence in democracy in the two countries.

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