Reviewing the recall systemThe country’s first gubernatorial recall election ended unsuccessfully due to poor voter turnout. Jeju Governor Kim Tae-hwan survived the unprecedented recall motion as ballot results fell shy of the required one-third vote. The outcome is no surprise. The recall attempt had been criticized as an abuse of the still-nascent political recall system and poor voter turnout in the contentious campaign was widely anticipated. The recall was initiated because residents of the country’s largest island opposed the central government’s plan to build a harbor for dual military and civilian use.
The political recall system was adopted in 2007 to allow voters to remove elected city or provincial government heads from office if they were found violating campaign promises or making bad administrative decisions.
Establishing a dual-purpose harbor in Jeju was in line with the region’s desire to increase the island’s economic and strategic importance in the international community. The project is also timely, as China and Japan compete to show off their maritime ambitions. There is no doubt that a naval base in Jeju that connects the East and West Seas is necessary and even warranted.
The decision to go ahead with the project was made after a poll showed that most Jeju residents favored the idea. But that did not stop the attempt to unseat Kim and reverse the decision, costing the region nearly 2 billion won ($1.6 million) and resulting in local division.
We believe the recall election system needs to be revised to prevent this kind of damage. The first residential recall attempt against the Hanam mayor against a plan to build a crematorium in 2007 also failed due to poor turnout.
Both recall moves, initiated since the system was adopted, were aimed at stopping an elected official from proceeding with state projects, wreaking havoc on the local governments involved. If abuse of the recall system continues, there will be fewer local government heads who will risk taking on state-sponsored projects and more who will be drawn to short-term ventures popular with the public. In the long run, it will be a loss for the region as well as the country.
The recall system was introduced to give local governments and residents more autonomy. To ensure local government heads have the freedom to do their work, the system should be revised so it cannot be used in cases of individual misconduct such as negligence, misappropriation or law violations.
The Constitutional Court has ruled there should be no restrictions on the recall system. But that doesn’t mean we cannot revise the system to mitigate unwanted effects. Lastly, we hope Jeju residents can unite to make the island an international gateway.