[EDITORIALS]The high price of politics

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[EDITORIALS]The high price of politics

The National Election Commission's plans to amend political and election-related laws, with consideration of adopting a public election system, has broad appeal. It makes sense to make use of public forums, such as policy seminars and debates on television, since slandering, mudslinging, violence and bribes have tainted past elections.

We can readily predict that the government will shift the burden toward media-based elections. By adopting the public election system for the presidential election, the election commission will stop paying subsidies to political parties but foot the bill for much of candidates' campaign expenses, meaning the government will increase its budget by some 5.5 billion won ($4.6 million) -- not too burdensome.

These plans are exciting. They will reduce the demand for political funds and provide transparency in the democratic process. But the commission's decision to raise the amount a candidate must pay in order to register is problematic. The proposal to increase the amount to 2 billion won from the current 500 million won means that the commission is, in effect, raising the entry threshold for new political forces.

The commission argues that because government subsidies for elections will be raised to 80 percent, individual candidates should pay the 2 billion won that accounts for 10 percent of the projected cost of a presidential election.

But the reasoning is flawed because the high threshold bars the entry of minority parties. That is why the Constitutional Court declared the stipulation that candidates running for the National Assembly pay 20 million won as unconstitutional. Realistically, that means the Democratic Labor Party, which won 8 percent of votes in the June local elections, could be barred from entering the presidential election because of the financial requirements.

Amendments to the laws governing elections, political parties and funding need no hesitancy. But the commission's fine print carries the seeds of creating a new election environment where minority political parties may effectively be barred, and the bad practices of illegal political money tainting elections may continue.
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