[EDITORIALS]Lawmakers, Vote Your Conscience

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[EDITORIALS]Lawmakers, Vote Your Conscience

As the confrontation intensifies between the ruling and opposition parties over whether to raise the retirement age for school teachers, a number of lawmakers suggested that they be allowed to break party discipline when the idea comes up for a vote in the National Assembly's plenary session. They are suggesting that lawmakers be allowed to vote according to their conscience instead of party lines. Several Grand National Party lawmakers also said if there should be a party line on the issue, it needs to remain a recommendation, not an order.

We believe a free vote is the best idea to overcome the current strained state of affairs. While both ruling and opposition leadership oppose a free vote on the grounds that their control over their lawmakers would wane, they should reconsider. Both parties put more significance on the teacher retirement issue than it deserves, dubbing it an evaluation of President Kim Dae-jung's reform policies. The dilemma for the opposition Grand National Party is particularly acute. If it withdraws from its official stance favoring raising the retirement age to 63, it would be embarrassed. But if it perseveres, it will anger voters.

It may be natural for political parties to form a party line, and some issues are bound up in longer-term political strategies. But parties should not deprive their lawmakers of their conscience and beliefs. Both leadership groups should ponder why 80 lawmakers called for a law ensuring their freedom to vote as they choose, which should really be an inherent right.

Political parties have allowed crossover voting in the past on such issues as the death penalty, euthanasia and the legal age. They should minimize the times that they press an official party stance on their lawmakers.

Allowing crossover voting on matters such as the teachers' retirement age could reduce pressure from interest groups; lawmakers would vote according to their constituents' opinion. Crossover voting will not just overcome the current stalemate, but will promote democracy in political parties. It would put a stop to the authoritarian political culture of the past, which made political parties privately owned, and establish a new political culture.
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