[VIEWPOINT]Only voters can halt the corruptionOur worries have become reality. Corruption involving the nomination of candidates by political parties for regional elections decorates newspaper headlines daily nowadays, with the May 31 local elections just around the corner. On Dec. 28 last year, I contributed a column to the JoongAng Ilbo under the title, “The system in which political parties nominate candidates for basic local autonomous organizations should be withdrawn.” In it, I wrote that “the revision of a law that makes local governments adopt a system in which candidates are nominated by central political parties is terrible, and signals that the reform-mindedness of the 17th National Assembly is dead.”
The reason I criticized the new law is as follows.
First, considering the ethics of our political parties, the corruption surrounding the nominations is no surprise. The governing and the opposition parties battled each other in almost everything, but agreed to the party nomination system ostensibly to “realize responsible politics.”
In reality, it was a political calculation that the incumbent National Assemblymen could get clear command of local council members and the heads of local organizations that had been out of their control.
Since getting the nomination of the dominant party in a region is tantamount to winning the election, and because the incumbent assemblymen and the heads of the local party members’ associations have a decisive influence on nominations, it is almost natural that corrupt deals have become rampant.
After the law was revised, even the members of the regional councils had a hard time finding the right connections with their assemblymen.
National Assembly members have argued that laws to enhance the quality of local council members and to adopt the proportional representative system in order to encourage the advancement of female politicians and to change the current small electoral constituency system into a medium constituency system are necessary. But now it looks obvious that those are not persuasive excuses.
The Uri Party is asking people who applied to become the party’s proportional representation candidates in the metropolitan and local council elections to make contributions to the party ranging from tens of millions of won to 1.45 million won ($152,000), under the guise of election costs.
The National Election Commission ruled there is no legal problem with the party’s requests. However, it is hard to understand how someone can be a candidate without money. Moreover, there is also a possible side effect of that rule: the corruption by the winners.
Local organizations can be administered by political parties, but local organizations directly linked to the lives of local residents should be independent, without any connection to central politics.
Therefore, making even basic local organizations a part of central politics through the party nomination system was a change for the worse. It is obvious from the strategies followed by each party running in the upcoming local elections.
The Grand National Party urges the people to “Judge the Roh Moo-hyun Administration,” and the Uri Party claims that people should “Punish corrupt parochial powers.”
This means the regional elections have become an evaluation of the incumbent president and central political parties, not of the regional government organizations themselves. Ever since regional councils were established, there has been no autonomy for local residents ― only fights between political parties.
In the upcoming regional elections, therefore, it would be wise for residents to support non-affiliated candidates as representatives that can really sacrifice themselves for their region.
Japan is a good example. With a long history of regional self-rule, almost all of the heads of basic government organizations have had no affiliation with the major parties since 1990. Since 2000, 95.7 percent of the governors, the heads of metropolitan government organizations, have become non-affiliated. This is the result of a wise choice made by the Japanese. It is now time our local residents made the same judgment about central politics.
Under the leadership of the Central Election Management Committee, the manifesto movement (the campaign to make true election pledges) that succeeded in Europe and Japan is expanding to Korea in time for the regional elections.
A draft amendment to the election law was presented to the National Assembly last Thursday, under the agreement of both the governing and the opposition parties. The bill will allow candidates of metropolitan and local autonomous organizations to publish and distribute election pledges that state their policies.
Now, regional residents must accomplish reform through elections by reading these pledges carefully and evaluating the candidates. By doing so, they can put the central parties’ corrupt deal over party nominations in the shade.
* The writer is a professor at the Korea National Police University and former chairman of the Korean Constitutional Law Association.
by Lee Kwan-hee