Korean Local Government Has Matured, Reflecting Shift to Democracy
President of The Seoul Times
Since then a four-year cycle of local elections has been maintained. Both Executives and Councils sit for a four-year term.
Local government units are categorized as Upper and Lower level. There are sixteen Upper Level and two hundred and thirty two Lower Level classes. The former consist of eight Provinces and a ninth self-governing Province (Jeju) together with one Special City or TukByeolShi (Seoul) and six Metropolitan Cities or GwangYeokShi. All of the Chief Executives and Councils for the Upper Level administrative units are elected by popular ballot. But for the Lower level the smallest units do not have councils and their administrative officers are appointed by the next level up.
From 2006 even foreigners who have permanent residence status (F5 visa-holders) have been eligible to vote in such local elections.There are several categories and they differ depending on whether the place is an urban or a rural environment. To qualify as a City, or Shi, a minimum population of one hundred and fifty thousand is required. Below that the area is called a Gun or County.
Within a City there may be several districts of boroughs, called Gu. In the case of a County the respective subdivision may be either a Town or Eub, which needs a minimum population of twenty thousand, or a Myeon – a Township – where there should be at least six thousand inhabitants. The smallest administrative areas are, in the case of a City, a Dong, which has its own Office or Dong Samuseo, and in the County, a Ri or village. There is an even smaller subdivision in the urban areas, called a Tong or a Ga, but this barely survived in usage except as an indication of address – hence Chong-ro Il, I, Sam, Sa and Oh-ga, for example.
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Alan Timblick serves as President of The Seoul Times. He grew up in England, graduated from Oxford University, and has lived in Seoul for over three decades. A former banker, he also worked for the Korean government as head of Invest Korea and for Seoul City as head of the Seoul Global Center.
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