[OUTLOOK]Mid-term elections are healthy

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[OUTLOOK]Mid-term elections are healthy

Uri Floor Leader Kim Han-gill has argued that the presidential election and elections for the National Assembly should be held in the same year. The speaker of the National Assembly, Lim Chae-jung and Uri Party chairman Kim Geun-tae made the same argument. Whenever the Uri Party mentioned this issue, the main opposition Grand National Party dismissed it, believing that the governing party had adopted the strategy with the upcoming presidential election scheduled for next year.
Political parties will try to gain fringe benefits from the proposed change but the people should be well prepared for the upheaval that would be caused by this abrupt rewriting of the Constitution.
In regard to this issue, last week’s U.S. midterm elections send us a meaningful message.
Waiting for the results of the elections, the media and the public focused their interest on whether the Democrats would gain majorities in the House and in the Senate and also whether they would have a sweeping victory in the races for governor. People tried to predict what changes the results could produce in the policy toward North Korea. The Democratic Party gained majorities in Congress and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took responsibility and resigned immediately. How dynamic and dramatic!
Had it not been for midterm elections, it would not have been possible to mete out such punishment for the ruling party’s misrule.
If we hold the presidential election and general elections at the same time, there will be no mid-term elections. Without mid-term elections, politicians make mistakes which cannot be punished until it is too late.
With this in mind, the American founding fathers purposely created mid-term elections. The members of the House have a two-year term, the president four years and the members of the Senate six years, which means there are elections every second year. Americans remember those years as one with a presidential election or one without. And at every election, one-third of senators have to face the voters.
It may sound complicated but the basic purpose is to make it more difficult for the same party to hold the presidency and the Congress for a long time without check. Through elections, the division of power is institutionalized.
I do not mean we should have a mid-term system just because the United States does. I am just worried that the ruling party wants to change the Constitution because it has a mistaken view of reality. I take their point that it is confusing and costly to hold a presidential election every five years and one for the Assembly every four years, with local elections somewhere in between.
I wonder if the ruling party wants to make changes because it has bad feelings about its failures. Does the Uri Party think if it had gained a majority in the National Assembly it could never have been blocked by the Grand National Party on every issue and every bill and it would never have had such disastrous failures?
Politicians should view the National Assembly as a place to make compromises, not a place to dominate. Since democratic rule began in Korea, every administration had to face a National Assembly in which opposition party members outnumbered ruling party members. It is impossible to force the country to make it the other way around.
Instead of saying such a situation is good or bad, politicians should see it as normal. When the president performs well, then more ruling party members will take National Assembly seats than opposition party members. In such a case, ruling members should think of it as an extra benefit. To hold mid-term elections is a way to institutionalize this outcome.
The results of the elections for the National Assembly, local elections and by-elections held during this administration show that South Korean voters are over-sensitive to short-term problems and the immediate social climate, which makes it possible for a certain party to have a sweeping victory. In the wake of his impeachment, President Roh Moo-hyun’s political party was able to gain a majority in the National Assembly. The same party, however, was crushed in the last May 31 local elections.
We should continue to hold mid-term elections on a regular basis at least until this tendency stops. Let’s look at the heads of local governments and local assemblymen. Because those officials were elected at the same time, most of them are Grand National Party members. Who can check the Grand Nationals then?

*The writer is a professor of politics at Kookmin University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Choong-bin
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