[VIEWPOINT]They are local elections in name only

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[VIEWPOINT]They are local elections in name only

When I recently visited a city in the Gyeongsang province, the residents were furious because of the nomination of a mayoral candidate from the Grand National Party.
Rumors circulated that not only the mayoral candidates but also the candidates for provincial and city councils were filled with the national assemblymen’s private assistants, local business influentials and political scamps. All kinds of rumors abounded that the candidates had been engaged in private financing businesses, or had provided campaign funds for the national assemblymen. Almost everyone I met spoke ill of the national assemblymen and the Grand National Party.
They raised suspicions over the party’s announcement that the candidate was nominated because he was 0.07 percent ahead in an opinion poll, although he had lost in the vote of party members. I wondered how he could be ahead in the poll when the public opinion had been so unfavorable.
I heard later that the mayoral candidate’s wife was suddenly arrested on the charge of distributing money to manipulate a poll. Doesn’t this mean that she had known who would be the targets of the poll?
Residents protested, “We elect the mayor and lawmakers do not appoint him.” So I asked, “Can you not boycott such a candidate?” But they had a reason to be resentful.
According to article 57-2-2 of the Public Election Law, a defeated candidate for the nomination cannot run for election as an independent. I thought that they had only to vote for another candidate from another party. They said it was difficult to do so too, because in the Gyeongsang province, candidates do not compete if they do not come from the Grand National Party.
To the Grand National Party, the nomination is almost the same as the election. The situation is not much different in other regions, either.
Prosecutors are investigating a couple of heavyweight Grand Nationals and the secretary general of the Democratic Party on charges of taking hundreds of millions of won or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. The governing Uri Party has also aroused criticism by receiving hundreds of million won in special party membership dues. There has been a series of reports and investigations on campaign funds across the nation.
During the Han Dynasty of China, government officials were selected at the recommendation of high-ranking officials. After the civil service examination was adopted in the Sui Dynasty, the rights to select them returned to the king. This system took root in the Tang Dynasty.
Although government officials were selected by how well they wrote prose and poetry, Li Bai was appointed a lower-grade civil servant at 42 and Du Fu at 44. Until then, they had to spend years in unfortunate wandering.
Han Yu, one of the greatest poets during the Tang and Song Dynasties, failed three times in the qualification examination for a lower-level civil service job and three times in a row in the appointment examination. So he had to look for a tie to a family in power. He had to write a shamefully flattering letter to the influential Li Sil in order to become a royal inspector after wandering from one local military clique to another to solve the problem.
Li Sil was a treacherous courtier and profiteer that all the people knew. Han Yu’s letter shared the “code” with the villainous vassal to get the government position.
If the recommendation system was to conform to the code of aristocrats, then the civil service examination was tuned to the code of the king. But during the Tang Dynasty, applicants still had to adjust themselves to the code of high-ranking officials. The royal family or officials in high positions gave examiners the ranking of applicants in advance.
The appointment of our local heads by the central government has been changed to appointment by local elections, in order to make the candidates adjust to the code of local residents, not that of the central government. But things are going quite differently these days. The candidates who had conformed to the code of the central party have just changed their focus to the code of local representatives. They put the people on the back burner.
It is said that an assemblyman from Seoul filled five seats out of 10 on city and district councils with his former aides and secretaries. Because political parties receive money to nominate seats and examine candidates only for their loyalty, the political party is a private organization for lawmakers. Figures who are likely to be rivals to incumbent lawmakers are nipped in the bud.
Like the civil service examination of the Tang Dynasty, ours is an election system in name only.
The justification of nomination by the party is to realize responsible politics. But who will be responsible for what? What is the political party doing to operate the local governments? Local governments cannot achieve their autonomy properly if the candidates conform to the code of lawmakers rather than local residents. In this situation, should the party nominate the candidates?
How about having the candidates for the heads of local governments compete with their political party badges off next time?

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ibo.

by Kim Jin-Kook
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