[VIewpoint]Square changePerhaps due to public criticism, the titles of the lawmakers selected to represent the nation’s constituency have been changed to proportional representatives. Even with that, the controversy over whether those lawmaker badges are for sale continues. Some even argue that the proportional lawmaker system should be abolished.
However, the primary cause of the so-called “money badge” scandal was not the proportional representation system itself, but the impracticality of the funding system for candidates and the fact that candidates are nominated behind closed doors. Those factors need to be changed. If they aren’t, the problems will continue not just in the National Assembly elections, but in the local elections, too, which are not as carefully monitored by the public.
Just like the electoral system, in which one candidate is chosen for each of 245 districts nationwide, the proportional representation system has its pros and cons.
Each political party is given a certain number of seats based on the proportion of votes they win overall, which creates a disparity between the number of total votes and the number of seats handed out.
While the single-member electorate system requires the candidate to have a lot of money and power to win, the proportional representation system allows a policy specialist or a minority candidate to join the National Assembly, diversifying the legislature.
On the other hand, winning a seat under the proportional representation system is highly dependent on the party, not the voters. Therefore, lawmakers chosen by proportional representation can be less independent than the lawmakers elected to represent their own constituency. Of course, without actually running for election before voters, the lawmakers become nothing more than rubber-stamp representatives to serve their party.
The two systems complement each other. New Zealand, a country with a long tradition of democracy, and Japan and Italy adopted the mixed system, combining single-member districts and proportional representation, in the 1990s. Countries in Eastern Europe, after the fall of communist bloc, also introduced a similar system.
If the single-member constituency system is the election system of the 19th century, proportional representation is that of 20th century. The mixed system is now called the electoral system of the 21st century.
Korea’s proportional representation system was introduced by the Park Chung Hee administration to allow the ruling party to secure a stable majority in the legislature. While the ruling parties have abused the system to secure influence, the opposition parties have used the system to attract more political funds.
The 2004 legislative election, however, brought about an opportunity for normalization. By introducing a new system that allowed voters to cast separate ballots to express their support for a political party, the proportionality of the system was secured. The political parties also began to nominate their candidates fairly and transparently, swept up in the wind of political reform.
As a result, a large number of policy specialists entered the National Assembly. For the Grand National Party, in particular, contributions from those lawmakers helped it win back power. A large number of female lawmakers also developed their political careers because they received a nationwide platform.
The proportional representation system, however, became a problem again after the political party support system ended.
The parties stopped nominating their proportional representation candidates based on the opinions of party members.
In a change from the 2004 National Assembly elections, support associations for the political parties were shut down. The parties found that the only way they could raise funds was to receive state subsidies or collect membership fees.
Because the state subsidies were distributed in favor of the major political parties, the minority parties have suffered a severe monetary drought. Small political parties are inevitably tempted by the possibility of collecting special membership fees. Furthermore, the political parties have taken a step backward, nominating candidates behind closed doors. In doing so, some have used the nominations to purge unwanted rivals. It also opened opportunities to buy a nomination from the party.
To stop Korea’s politics from moving farther backward, political parties must be allowed to form supporting associations. By imposing a ceiling limit on donations and making the list of contributors public, we can make those political parties healthy and transparent.
Second, the details of the spending of party membership fees should be made public and a ceiling should be imposed on admission fees to stop the political parties from getting rebates in return for nominations and to prevent only a small number of rich people from getting the opportunity to win the nomination.
Third, a new law should be passed to govern the way the nominations are made and establish a timeline to stop the parties from nominating their candidates behind closed doors.
Fourth, all of the details of a political party’s candidate nomination process should be documented and the record should be released.
*The writer is a professor of politics at Kyung Hee University.
by Kim Min-jeon