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Exhibition shows S. Korean journey toward universal suffrage

All Headlines 15:53 March 14, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, March 14 (Yonhap) -- With the nation's 20th general election less than a month away, a retrospective exhibition is taking place that will guide visitors through the tumultuous history of South Korean democracy.

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History opened a special exhibition titled "Elections Foster Democracy" on Monday, with 300 relevant historical materials, including decades-old election posters and ballot boxes.

Since the first general election took place on May 10, 1948, to establish an independent nation, the country has embarked on a turbulent journey toward democracy with an intensity that no other modern nation has experienced before.

In the next few decades after the first election, authoritarian governments often rigged election results and trampled on civil democratic movements. However, people's yearning for freedom brought in a democratic tide that couldn't be turned back. During the period, elections have served as the cornerstone for the change.

"Since liberalization from Japanese colonial rule, people have never given up on elections even though there were times when it was either restricted or insufficient during the dark patches of Korean history" said Kim Yong-jick, director of the museum. "We would like to convey the message that elections are the foundation that our democracy stands on." Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945.

In the three-story high entrance hall, visitors are greeted with a giant screen that shows a brief history of Korean democracy. In a corner of the hall, people can cast ballots in a mock voting booth and see how their votes are counted.

The exhibition on the third floor offers visitors a visual tour of the footsteps of the country's election system, from representative elections to rigged ones to direct elections that eventually led to a full-blown democracy in the late 1980s.

On one wall there's a well-known campaign catchphrase, "We can't stand anymore. Let's change!" by Chang Myon and Shin Ik-hee, the opposition party's hopefuls for president and vice president, respectively, back in 1956. The phrase helped the pair win voters' hearts, with Chang being elected the country's vice president. (Shin died shortly before the election.)

The exhibition runs until June 26.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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