Don’t rush overseas votingThe Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that limiting the voting rights of Korean citizens abroad is unconstitutional. In doing so, the court reversed its own 1999 ruling that such limits were constitutional. In this ruling the court said that the decision was based on international norms and that overseas voting would help develop the capacity of the country and its people.
As a result, the participation of overseas Koreans could become a big factor in elections. At the end of 2005, there were 1.7 million Korean citizens of voting age with residence rights abroad, and another 1.15 million students and employees of South Korean companies overseas ― all in all a total of 2.8 million people. In size, it is a population equal to South Gyeongsang. Considering that the vote differential in the 1997 and 2002 presidential elections was only 390,000 and 570,000 votes, respectively, this could become a decisive factor.
In light of this fact, there is great friction in political circles over the issue. On Thursday, a National Assembly committee hotly debated the matter. The Grand National Party argued that the ruling should be incorporated in time for the upcoming presidential elections, while the Uri Party said the ruling should be applied gradually.
If such useless debates continue, it is better to take more time and prepare thoroughly for the change. The Constitutional Court, fearing legal confusion, gave a grace period of one year for implementation, meaning the new rights would not take effect until after the next election cycle. The National Election Commission also said that in order to have a stable process, the ruling should become law at least six months before an election. Devising a potential voter pool and determining who is eligible to vote is a time-consuming process. There are also technical issues such as establishing voting centers.
Whether to introduce Internet-based voting, measures to prevent election rigging and illegal campaign guidelines are also closely linked with the sovereignty of the countries in which Koreans reside.
And if voting is to be acknowledged as a basic right even without the responsibility to pay taxes and serve in the military, the question arises whether this is fair to those who pay taxes and submit to the military draft.
There is also the issue of longtime Korean residents of Japan. The policy must also be pursued in such a way as to not harm the efforts of overseas Koreans to be incorporated smoothly into their communities.