중앙데일리

Parties are using new rules to cut old lawmakers out of the process.

How are the April election nominations different?

Mar 25,2008
Park Jae-seung gets flack for cutting lawmakers out of UDP nominations in Seoul on March 6. By Cho Yong-chul
With the general election of National Assembly legislators coming in less than two weeks, one of the words most frequently heard in the local media is “gongcheon.”
It is Korean for “public recommendation,” or a nomination. It refers to the process whereby political parties select candidates to run for a seat in the National Assembly. Without the nomination, or “receiving the gongcheon,” as the Korean phrase goes, it is difficult for aspiring lawmakers to run under the party banner.
So winning the hearts of the party’s candidate-screening nomination committee is one of the first steps legislative hopefuls must tackle. The campaign to become a candidate is sometimes much fiercer than the actual election campaign that targets the nation’s voters.
It is common to see politicians who want to become lawmakers passing out business cards on the street, volunteering in offices and blasting their voice across town on loudspeakers as they introduce themselves as a “preliminary candidate,” awaiting the nomination committee’s selection.
By promoting themselves, they aim to get a higher approval rating in the polls. This is an important criterion for the committee to decide who will represent their party in a certain district.
The nomination system here calls for open nominations by political parties of candidates for election. So the candidates may range from a three-term lawmaker seeking a new term at the National Assembly, to a celebrity figure who wants to give politics a try.
Would-be candidates may hope to run in the same district, which can be called District A for discussion purposes. They may have different reasons. For example, a seasoned politician may have built his or her entire career in District A. But the celebrity may want to run in the same district because he or she is popular there. It is up to the party to decide which candidate has a better chance of winning each district over opponents from other political parties.
The political circle recently reported that the nomination committee for the Grand National Party asked its lawmaker and spokeswoman, Na Kyung-won, to run in Jung District, central Seoul. The GNP had considered this area a tough battleground.
Na initially took a bid to run for Songpa C in southeastern Seoul where the GNP is more popular. But the party thought Na became a celebrity after she became a spokeswoman for the party, and decided that placing her in the Jung District would help the party win more seats in the assembly.
Lately questions have arisen over how party leadership decides who will run for which district. The public believes the nomination process should be based on public opinion. That is because lawmakers here say the nomination itself is part of the democratic process.
The GNP did use a bottom-up nomination process in 2004. That year, the party nomination committee organized a primary election in some competitive regions to pick candidates.
But this year, the political parties did not have enough time to organize primaries for the general election this year, due to the presidential election last December. Instead, the GNP gave the party’s nomination committee the authority to select candidates under the premise that they will make the best choices.
In the past, however, there were several murky cases when the party leader had sole power over the nominations, while the nomination committee existed only as a puppet.
But such decisions are now in the hands of a committee, not a single person.
This is a slightly more democratic progress. Even so, the top-down nomination by the party leadership is almost institutionalized in Korea.
Another thing to take note of in the Korean political system is that the political parties are centered around the main leadership of the party. The central leadership has the power to administrate, raise funds and make decisions ― things that are difficult for an individual lawmaker to do alone.
In other words, the head of the party has substantial power over the floor leader, who represents the party in the national assembly.
Legislative politics here are based on party politics.
Even if one succeeds in securing a seat in the National Assembly, he or she will likely face obstacles in conducting legislative activity without party support. This explains why lawmakers who walk out of one party quickly form or join another.
Lawmaker Chung Mong-joon, who entered the Grand National Party last December, said his past five years as an independent in the assembly were very difficult. When he was named a leader within the GNP, many lawmakers responded angrily that a party newcomer was handed a powerful post that could control the party.
With the elections near, parties have formed their own nomination screening committees to select candidates who will run for different districts and those that will benefit from the party’s proportional representation.

Mum’s the word for Ahn Kang-min, head of the GNP nomination committee, on the committee results. [NEWSIS]
This year’s general election has been particularly controversial. Political parties have formed their own nomination committees by inviting judges from outside the party to apply stern rules to count out particular candidates.
The United Democratic Party’s screening committee shut out candidates who were sentenced to prison terms for bribery or caught drinking and driving more than three times. This left many veteran lawmakers, including high-profile legislators, out of the running.
In an interesting coincidence, lawmaker Shin Gye-ryoon, the United Democratic Party general secretary, headed the party’s general election planning team.
But when Shin was found guilty of bribery, the head of the nomination committee, Park Jae-seung, a former judge, eliminated Shin the party’s nomination list.
The GNP has also said it will replace some incumbent lawmakers. Although their rules are not as clear as the UDP’s, the GNP replaced almost half of its incumbent lawmakers in the Gyeongsang provinces, where the conservative party is popular.
The candidate nomination process should be completed today.
After nominations are final, candidates will get ready to campaign for a seat in the 299-member National Assembly for a four-year term. Among the Assembly members, 243 are directly voted from each constituency, while 56 members are chosen by the proportional representation system.
The proportional representation system lets the party share seats in the National Assembly according to the parties’ share of votes.
Winning more than half of the seats in the National Assembly has become a major goal for each party. Even President Lee Myung-bak is trying to help the GNP win more votes in the election. For example, Lee made a surprise visit to a temple in South Chungcheong last week. South Chungcheong is the region where Lee Hoi-chang, a GNP defector and his former presidential rival, is currently running for a legislative seat as standard bearer for his new party.


By Lee Min-a Staff Reporter [mina@joongang.co.kr]



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