중앙데일리

The recall system is aimed at promoting grassroots democracy.

Why is a recall system being introduced?

June 05,2007
Residents in Gunsan, North Jeolla, cast votes in 2005 on a proposal to build a nuclear waste dump in their city. Residents now have more say on the fate of their elected heads of local governments. [JoongAng Ilbo]
The recall system that enables citizens to kick out an elected local official before his or her term ends went into effect on May 25. In some places, the names of some officials who might lose their posts under the system have already been put forward by local residents. Today, let’s learn about the recall system ― its background, procedures, history, merits and flaws.
The system allows local residents to file a complaint against an elected local official and vote him or her out. Its aim is to get rid of local government heads or council members who are accused of corruption, dishonesty or authoritarian policies.
Lawmakers last year approved the presidential regulations for a recall system in a bid to promote grassroots democracy. Under the system, residents can suspend an elected local official by collecting signatures of a certain percentage of residents in their area.
During a special ballot, if more than one third of the residents vote and a majority of those who voted want the official to leave, he or she would be forced out. The empty seat would be filled in a by-election.
The system is a form of direct democracy to complement the representative democracy under which the country is currently governed, which entrusts political power to elected officials who are expected to remain at their posts until the end of their term, even when they fail to keep their election pledges.
Some local government officials who were indicted for corruption have kept their positions until convicted of a crime by a court.
In some cases, local government officials who were detained on charges have continued to serve their terms while in detention. The recall system aims to put an end to such irregular practices.
The recall process involves two steps: filing a complaint against an elected local official and voting that official out. To file a complaint, signatures have to be collected from a certain percentage of residents.
In Korea, to recall a metropolitan city mayor or a provincial governor, citizens must collect signatures from more than 10 percent of the eligible voters of the city or the province.
For mayors of smaller cities and heads of counties or districts, residents need to gather signatures from at least 15 percent of the voters. For a local council member to be recalled, more than 20 percent of voters have to sign.
The signature drive must be completed within 120 days of its announcement for a metropolitan city mayor and a provincial governor, and within 60 days for the others.
By comparison, in the United States, the percentage of required signatures varies, from 5 to 50 percent. On average 25 percent of voters in an election district are required to sign a recall petition.
In Japan, to recall an elected official, residents have to collect signatures from a third of the total number of voters in an electoral district.
To prevent abuse of the system, residents in the election districts with a relatively small number of voters are required to collect signatures from a higher percentage of voters than in districts with a large number of voters.
For example, residents in a district consisting of three to four dong (a neighborhood) would be able to easily collect signatures from 10 percent of voters to get rid of a district council member. Thus, for a smaller election district, signatures from a higher percentage of voters are required.
If the residents succeed in collecting the signatures, the elected officials can be suspended from their posts and a vote would then be held on the recall.
If more than one-third of the residents vote, and a majority want the official to resign, then the official would be forced out. Empty seats would be filled through by-elections held in April and October each year.
The origin of the system goes back to the ancient Greeks. In Athens, residents wrote the names of men in power who might pose threats to the city on pottery shards and handed to authorities.
In modern society, the recall system was first adopted in 1903 in Los Angeles, in the United States. In 1909, Arthur Cyprian Harper, the city’s mayor, was recalled by voters and forced to resign. In the United States, 26 states have a recall system in place. On Oct. 7, 2003, movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, replacing Gray Davis, who was recalled.
In Europe, Switzerland and Germany have adopted the recall system. The system was adopted in early 1990 to appease residents in then-East Germany who were worried about sudden unification.
The country gradually extended the system and in some local governments, both elected and appointed government officials can be targets of recall.
In Korea, the laws on the recall system were passed in May of last year by the National Assembly and went into effect in May this year.
The country, however, does not allow voters to recall the president or legislators during their terms.
The system is believed to result in government officials giving more attention to people’s voices and interests. In addition, the system enables residents to kick out corrupt and incompetent government officials. It would also prevent candidates from making pledges that are not feasible or realistic.
At the same time, recall systems are criticized for creating instability and inefficiency in government organizations.
Recall voting and by-elections are costly for government budgets. Local residents might focus on regional interests and take advantage of the system.
For instance, local residents might more aggressively oppose locating a landfill or prison in their area.
Populist policies would prevail and long-term policies for the national interest might be ignored, weakening the country’s competitiveness.
Thus, it is necessary to keep the benefit of the system but work to minimize the system’s possible negative effects.


By Chang Soon-wook JoongAng Ilbo [soejung@joongang.co.kr]



dictionary dictionary | 프린트 메일로보내기 내블로그에 저장