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The purpose of this article is to examine preconditions of institutional reform that would nurture the development of Korean democracy. Proposals and suggestions have been made since the country’s transition to democracy in 1987 to introduce institutional arrangements for redressing the polity’s defects. They have been brought up on political discourse in the context of partisan calculation, anti-corruption, neoliberal rendering of politics, and anti-regionalism. As a result, discussions on institutional reform tend to ignore deeper sources of the new democracy’s instability such as a cartelized party system with tenuous ties to social cleavages. Instead of searching for a remedy from the institutional menu, I provide an account of three principles for institutional design-participation, representation, accountability--that would serve as yardsticks against which the quality of democracy is measured. Emphasis on those three principles indicates my understanding that institutional reform should not be directed toward specific institutional alternatives imported from outside the existing polity. Rather, our attention must be paid to democracy as a complex set of partial regimes that address various dimensions of social conflict. Preoccupation with institutions themselves can be misleading in our search for better government. Institutions need to be working as well as democratic. For us to have workable institutions it is important to deliberate on social and political conditions into which exogenous institutions are embedded. Institutional reform must be pursued in a minimalist way, and how to organize a reasonable deliberation on institutional reform is an open, more important question.