[Outlook]True party politicsIs it valid to assert that Korea uses a party democracy? In theory, it seems to be the only possibility because democracy without political parties is unthinkable at a time when universal suffrage is established. In accordance with the Korean Constitution, many privileges are given to political parties that protect them. For instance, the state provides subsidies to political parties to help them financially and endows parties with the right to nominate their candidates for elections. However, experience proves that Korea’s party democracy doesn’t exist in reality. The 18th legislative elections held on April 9 clearly showed that political parties and party politics exist only in theory. Why does reality fall short of the ideal when a party democracy is the only system and institutions guarantee and protect party politics?
A political party is a group of people who share the same political convictions, create policies on the basis of their political vision and compete against other parties for power in order to implement their policies. A political party reveals its political nature as a matter of course. Because political parties try to earn support from the people, parties create a spectrum of policies to reflect the spectrum of popular opinion. Political parties in a party democracy must exist for a long time and take root among the people.
However, Korean political parties do not have distinct political characteristics. They don’t clearly reveal their political identities. One sometimes wonders if they even know what their identities are.
With the identities of political parties unclear, politicians who think that it doesn’t matter which party they belong to move from one party to another in pursuit of their own interests. Politicians repeatedly gather and separate depending on their interests, and as a result, political parties disappear after a short period. Political parties don’t survive for long, and politicians remain the focus of the people.
For politicians, political parties are like bus stops in the course of their political careers, not their hometowns. It is thus impossible to expect these political parties to serve as a nest that binds politicians together as comrades. It is impossible for such parties to exist for a long time and to earn the support of the people. As they don’t have distinct identities and more closely resemble private organizations, political parties don’t have the capacity to guide political action in a certain direction.
Even if there is a spectrum of political opinions, political parties don’t have the capacity to reflect them. This leaves people feeling disconnected from the issues and they are left to decide which party they should support by considering their hometowns, schools and short-term interests, rather than their political convictions or policies. In the recent legislative elections, regionalism and short-term interests were important factors to separate winners from the losers. This was because political parties didn’t properly implement their duties.
The best way to promote party politics is a proportional representation system led by political parties. The system in which each person has two votes in legislative elections should have begun to change the way people think of parties and politicians. (In the most recent elections, voters were allowed to vote directly for which party would win proportional seats. In previous elections, parties were awarded proportional seats based on the percentage of the popular vote garnered by their candidates.)
However, seats for proportional representatives were used as means to raise funds for a party that was formed in haste for the elections. The lists of proportional representatives were used to hide the true colors of the political parties. The system of voting for political parties doesn’t have significance in these circumstances.
Proportional representatives represent not only professionals in many areas but also minority groups. A proportional representative system contributes to helping women or disabled people become representatives in the National Assembly. However, people who have little ideological affiliation with certain political parties use the name tags of the parties and enter the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, key members of the political parties were defeated in electoral constituencies and thus failed to enter the National Assembly. As a result, political parties lose their legislative leadership.
It might be a good idea to introduce Germany’s personalized proportional system. In that system, core members who advocate their parties’ identities can earn parliamentary seats with votes that they win in the names of their parties.
With this system in place, political parties can maintain consistent policies and their identities will become clearer, which will help the people get a better understanding of party politics and party democracy.
*The writer is a professor of law at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sun-taek