The Republic of Korea -- commonly known as South Korea -- was founded with a pro-U.S. government in 1948. The republic's early years -- from 1950 to 1953 -- were marred by war with communist North Korea. Today, the Republic of Korea is among the world's most industrialized and democratic nations, but their road to a democratic society was not an easy one.

Four Decades of Autocratic Rule

Syngman Rhee became the first president of the Republic of Korea in 1948 and remained in office until student protests of his autocratic rule forced him to resign in 1960. The government was overhauled and a Second Republic was declared, under the leadership of Chang Myon. This republic lasted only one year before being overthrown in a military coup by Major General Park Chung-hee, who governed South Korea until his 1979 assassination. Park was succeeded by another military government, under Lt. General Chun Doo-hwan.

On to Democracy

Despite decades of autocratic rule, South Korea had many vocal pro-democracy activists. Pro-democracy demonstrations intensified following a confrontation at Gwangju in 1980, in which over 200 civilians were killed. This eventually led to the institution of direct presidential elections in 1986 and free parliamentary elections in 1988. In 1992, the Republic of Korea elected its first civilian president since 1960. Since the late 1980s, South Korean politics have been marked by increasingly democratic forms of government and stable, peaceful transitions of power.