Overseas votingThe National Election Commission yesterday submitted its views to the National Assembly, urging lawmakers to pass a bill guaranteeing the political participation of 2.4 million Koreans residing overseas.
According to the latest opinion, all the 2.4 million Koreans living abroad over the legal voting age of 19, including short-term visitors, are qualified to participate in presidential and general elections.
In June 2007, the country’s highest court ruled that it is unconstitutional to restrict the political participation of Koreans living overseas.
The court also ruled that barring overseas short-term sojourners such as students and businessmen from absentee voting is unconstitutional.
“We can’t restrict voting rights, even though overseas Koreans don’t pay taxes or complete their military service,” the court said. It added that the current election law will stay in place until the end of this year because the government needs time to prepare for the changes and ensure that there isn’t any confusion.
However, lawmakers have been dragging their heels since then. Few people had really given the issue much thought and most of their energy went into last December’s presidential election as well as the general elections in April this year.
Even though the National Assembly said a meeting will be arranged as soon as possible to discuss the issue, it is difficult to say how things will turn out.
But lawmakers should note that they are pressed for time and that everyone is going to have a different view.
The ruling and the opposition parties know that 2.4 million voters will have the clout to decide the outcome of the next elections.
The government should also complete several tough assignments: setting up standard procedures for parties to follow if they campaign overseas and laying down plans to prevent illegal electioneering.
However, the bigger problem will come should the revision fail.
If the National Assembly does not revise the election laws by the deadline, the law will be automatically invalid, making it impossible for the April by-elections to go ahead.
The highest court has already offered guidelines. Now, the ruling party and the opposition should try their best to reach a mutual agreement without considering personal interests.