[VIEWPOINT]Proportional Representation at Crossroads

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[VIEWPOINT]Proportional Representation at Crossroads

Constitutional trials are essentially political. At the same time, they should be legal. The Constitutional Court ruled last week that Korea's one person, one vote proportional representation, that mandates a one person, one vote system for local elections but allocates proportional seats in the National Assembly based on total votes received by political parties, is unconstitutional. Although the court's ruling means overthrowing the existing political situation, it is a pretty natural and simple decision in a legal sense. We can tell this from the fact that the decision was passed unanimously by all judges. The argument that the current proportional representation system could be unconstitutional has been raised by many legal advisers for a long time. The issue we face now is how political parties would change the election law and how the change will influence politics.

First of all, it could be controversial whether or not a proportional representation system should be practiced since there are no definite provisions on the matter in the constitution. Even though we choose to practice the system, the political influence will vary depending on the detailed contents on the system. Should political party lists be drawn up on a national basis, or should they be drawn up based on regional bases? Should the lists be fixed or should they be flexible to voters? Depending on such details, political influences of the system could vary. Whatever the details are, it is pretty obvious that allowing two votes for each voter, one to be cast for a candidate, the other for a party, will benefit minor political parties and result in the birth of new political parties. If we bring in the one person, two vote system, there are big possibilities for divided elections, in which voters choose different political parties in party elections from the party to which the candidate of his choice in the local election belong, will emerge as a result.

Then, how should we interpret the influence of the one person, two vote system on our political structure? It is positive in a sense that it will help new political parties to emerge. The core of political reform is reforming political parties. So, if it is hard to reform the existing parties, it is natural that we should seek possibilities of reform through new parties.

However, there is one condition for this to be achieved. New political parties should be truly "new." In the past, we had attempted many times to create "new" parties, but we failed to do it. We must not ignore this.

Many people consider the one person, two vote system to be positive in a sense that it raises possibilities for laborer parties to make inroads into the National Assembly. However, there is a condition first to be achieved for this as well. Labor unions' illegal rallies and strikes should be eased in proportion to the increase in the number of seats in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, we must also think about the other side of the political effects the one person, two vote system could bring. The fact that the voting system would benefit minor parties and new parties could be interpreted as a consolidation of a multi-party system. Then, is the solidification of the multi-party structure really profitable to us? The structure could appear desirable in a sense that various political opinions and understandings are absorbed by diverse parties. However, the matter is not that simple when we consider it in connection with the current presidential system we are practicing.

The weak points of the presidential system are often generated from a divided government in which the ruling party and the opposition parties are confronted to each other in the parliament. Under the divided government in which the ruling party does not occupy majority of parliamentary seats, president and the assembly insist on its legitimacy and power of representation of the people to each other. The problem is that we do not have institutional methods to deal with the matter when the legitimacy collides between the parties. In other words, when there is collision of legitimacy, there is no other way but to overcome the problem by establishing mature culture of political negotiation.

Critics bring up this matter because in many cases the presidential system in South America ended in failure. When South American countries chose presidents, they introduced a proportional representation structure, and as a result multi-party system was brought in. And then, people say political stagnation under divided government resulted in collapse of democracy as a whole.

In Korea, a divided government generated by a multi-party structure has become usual since 1987. Based on past experience, Korean politics is not mature enough to admit a divided government. It has resulted in severe stagnation in state affairs and repetition of extreme political struggle.

In order for the one person, two vote system to bring positive effects to the nation, certain conditions must be met as mentioned. Can we really expect a mature political culture to settle down and solve problems of divided government? Will new political parties be really new? The political community holds the answer.


The writer is a professor of law at Hanyang University.

by Yang Kun

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