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Top-Down Democracy in South Korea, Erik Mobrand

Reviewed by Myungji Yang

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This book deals with one of the most pressing issues in South Korean politics—why, despite an active civil society and vibrant civic activism, political elites have remained unresponsive to and insulated from the public. In what Erik Mobrand refers to as a top-down democracy, political parties have not responded to political demands from below and have not effectively developed institutional channels for political representation. Mobrand argues that political elites manipulated electoral arenas as a means of maintaining the status quo while effectively blocking possible challengers, particularly progressive parties, through rigid legal regulation of parties and campaigning. Highlighting the long-enduring political institutions that originated with the founding of the Republic of Korea and the Park Chung Hee regime, Top-Down Democracy in South Korea challenges existing scholarship on Korean democratization, which mainly focuses on popular mobilization and social movements. In doing so, it clearly demonstrates how oligarchic and exclusionary political parties have been shaped over time and thus extends our understanding of the gaps and tensions between institutionalized politics and street activism in South Korea.

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