[VIEWPOINT]Elections: not just party politics

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[VIEWPOINT]Elections: not just party politics

In this year's presidential election, one thing is different from many previous elections. For the first time in a long time, the names of Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung are not found in the candidate list.

This is a big change in the Korean political climate, and has many implications for Korea's future. Finally, 40 long years of the so-called "Two Kims politics" has come to an end, although it will long be remembered in Korean political history. The end of the era might have come a little bit late, but it presents an opportunity to abandon old political practices. We can choose the best leadership that fits well into the 21st century and take our country to a higher level. History itself has laid upon us the burden of making the right decisions.

To meet these demands of the changing times, the Millennium Democratic Party has decided to choose its presidential candidate through internal party elections and is currently in the process of doing so, and the opposition party has decided to do the same. Whether we are talking about candidates for president or for seats in the National Assembly, it is not really necessary to select them through primary elections; that is an internal decision of the parties in question, and their nature is in no way the same as a general election for legislative seats or for the presidency.

The Millennium Democrats are holding their primary elections amid swirling rumors about a conspiracy to swing the results one way or another. The decision to have a runoff election is perhaps a natural result of efforts to get rid of "boss politics" in which one person rules the political universe, and of alleged mischief-making to disrupt efforts to end that old political system.

We have to understand one thing when looking at primary elections to select a presidential candidate or candidates for the National Assembly. According to the constitution, nothing should interfere with the people's right to select the leaders they desire in a general election. It is a logical corollary to say that the same principle should apply to primary elections as well. The party itself should not intervene and prevent someone whom the people clearly want from running for election and thus deny the people the opportunity to make an unfettered choice. This is why primary elections should also fall under the same constitutional rules as general elections.

In presidential elections, party primaries serve the purpose of selecting a presidential candidate who has the right to use the party name and the accompanying party resources and the support of party members. It is not a process in which the party decides whom to offer as presidential candidate to the people. Primary elections are a party's internal matter but general elections are a matter of basic rights of the people. Hence, regardless of party affiliation or primary election results, anybody can run for president. This is a right guaranteed in the constitution. The only difference is that the person who lost in an internal primary election cannot run under the party's name, since he cannot stand as a candidate together with the winner. Potential candidates can run by joining another party, creating one of their own or standing as an independent candidate. Those are the rules of democracy.

In the last elections, Rhee In-je lost in the party's internal selection process but still ran for the presidency. At the time, other candidates criticized him for not honoring the results of the internal election. In this case, voters or party members can either support or not vote for him based on their values or their political standing, but there were no legal grounds for criticizing him.

In this year's presidential election, there should be no difference. Parties that have selected their presidential candidate through internal elections will put up their candidate while those who did not succeed in the internal elections will try to run as independent candidates or run as another party's candidate or even create their own party. All these activities are perfectly legal. In such cases, those who decide to run for president despite their losses in the internal elections are running a political risk, but voters are free to cast their votes for them if they think the person has the "right stuff."

Presidential candidates should debate policies and values, and not criticize each other on the basis of whether they have acceded to the results of a party's internal election. There is no point in arguing over such a matter. What is more important is to calm down and think about the true meaning of an election.


The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Chung Jong-sub

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