[EDITORIALS]Playing local politics

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[EDITORIALS]Playing local politics

Local elections scheduled for May 31 are already showing signs of muddiness. There have been heated controversies recently over charges of gerrymandering of election districts that would benefit one political party over the others, and plans for four-seat constituencies have been scaled back. Many election districts will now send two representatives each, not four, to local assemblies, a move that benefits Korea’s largest political parties.
It was reasonable that the city and provincial groups who set up new election districts originally decided on 161 four-member districts, 379 three-member districts and 366 two-member districts. But then the local administrations and assemblies were given the right to “coordinate” the process. All the local assemblies have made good use of that right and have reduced the number of four-member districts as much as they could. They also increased the number of two-member districts. Seoul, Daegu and Incheon and Gyeonggi province have no more four-representative districts at all. In the course of making those decisions, there have been physical brawls and a rush to decisions made without the proper deliberation.
The stated reasons for making those changes were that there were too many overlapping districts and election costs would be higher for the four-member districts. But in reality and behind the scenes, the actions were political maneuvers. In the Korean political tradition, parties matter more than individuals in influencing voters. So if only two members of an assembly can be elected per district, the Grand National Party and the Uri Party, the two largest factions, will have the upper hand in electing assembly members. Minor opposition parties such as the Democratic Labor Party and civic groups are protesting these redistricting decisions strongly.
The multi-seat constituency system was introduced by the National Assembly in June. The intention was to overcome regionalism and to bring new faces to local administrations. But the reality will probably be just the opposite. Watching how things are going now, it appears that local assemblies will be filled with established political figures and representatives of powerful interests in local areas.
Some would-be candidates are already queuing at the doors of political parties for nominations. Local politics may continue to depend solely on national parties and politics, and the future of our local autonomy efforts is gloomy.
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