1. First democratic election in 1948 for Constitutional Assembly members

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1. First democratic election in 1948 for Constitutional Assembly members

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1.Seoul. May 4, 1948. Korean students pass out election handbills at an intersection in preparation for the coming elections on May 10.: 2.Seoul. Entrance to a polling place in the capital. Note display of photographs of candidates with names in large ideographs.: 3 .Seoul. May 31, 1948. The above banner is one of hundreds printed in both English and Korean that were displayed today downtown by jubilant Koreans celebrating the historic first meeting of the newly elected Korean Constitutional Assembly. The banner reads, “Crush down red devils to build up an unified Korea!” : 4. Jeju Island. May 1, 1948. Korean policemen, armed with 30 millimeter caliber machine guns, stand guard in the city of Jeju against possible communist outbreaks, similar to those that have terrorized the natives of the surrounding villages.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, has preserved nearly 100,000 photos taken from the end of the 19th century to the mid-1990s to capture historic moments in contemporary Korean history. Seoul’s National Institute of Korean History will be given scanned copies of those historical archives. In cooperation with the committee, the JoongAng Ilbo and Korea JoongAng Daily will publish a 10-part series of the photos, the first time they have been made public. In this year marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War (1950-53), they are artifacts of the turbulent modern history of Korea. Ed.

May 10, 1948 was a historic day for Korea. It was the day that Koreans, for the first time, directly elected 198 National Assembly members. Anyone above the age of 20 was entitled to cast ballots in the 1948 elections.

The first general election produced the National Assembly that wrote the Constitution (which is why it was called the Constitutional Assembly) and elected the country’s first president, Syngman Rhee, in an indirect presidential election by the 198 lawmakers. It was a day of high drama and significance.

Photos offer a rare glimpse at Korea’s democracy’s first step. The 1948 general election was supervised by eight nations belonging to the UN temporary commission on Korea: China, Australia, Canada, El Salvador, France, India, the Philippines and Syria. Because of an entry ban by the Soviet Union to the Northern side, the election was only held in the South. Because it was the very first national election held in Korea, there was no clear legal sense of how far election campaigning could go. The main official election regulation was a ban on government workers intervening in the polling. To encourage people to participate, the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea, the then ruling body in the South, employed various means including posters, radio ads and pamphlets dropped from the sky by American pilots.

Votes were counted from 13,272 polling stations nationwide that were open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Local newspapers congratulated the success of the country’s very first election. The lawmakers opened the assembly on May 31 and laid the foundation for a democratic Korea including the establishment of the Constitution and the indirect presidential election in less than two-months.

*Ko Ji-hoon, researcher at the National Institute of Korean History, contributed to the article.

By Bae Young-dae [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]



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