Let voters select nominees

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Let voters select nominees

The immaturity seen in the candidate nomination process before elections perpetually gets in the way of democratic progress in Korean politics. In choosing the candidates for the positions of legislator, mayor, governor and council member, it is important to consider the broader opinions of common voters regardless of party affiliation. After all, the election results directly affect their livelihoods.

In other advanced countries, candidates are nominated through open primaries that voters participate in or via conventions that ordinary party members join.

Korea’s political system is now mature enough to import such open, democratic and nonbureaucratic nomination procedures.

The internal feud that roiled the Grand National Party over selecting candidates for the general election two years ago showed the downside of the behind-the-scenes, top-down nomination system. Ever since, the ruling party has been dogged by the rift over the nomination dispute. Tired of the feud, the party’s leaders called for reform of the nomination process.

In the upcoming election, the GNP for the first time will try enlisting the participation of a civilian panel to select candidates. Unfortunately, it appears the panel will likely have no real power. The panel will merely be called upon to agree or disagree with the list of nominees determined by the party nomination screening committee. The final decision still lies with the central party and lawmakers of the constituencies.

It looked as if the GNP had answered reformers’ calls to renounce the old nomination system, but these pleas have now been muted as the political parties gear up for the election season.

The opposition Democratic Party, on the other hand, will allow its civilian panel to name the winner among the runoff list of candidates selected by the party’s central leadership in the cities of Gwangju and Daejeon. That the party is offering open competition in its birthplace of Gwangju is meaningful.

But the party has kept participation of voters from many other key electoral districts closed. The DP’s nomination reform stops at a mere gesture. The DP was the first to introduce a civilian panel in its nomination process in 2002, but has since made few strides beyond the experimental stage during recent elections.

Party nominations have long indulged political heavyweights and legislators. Competent, fresh blood is blocked by the old clots of self-serving, closed nomination procedures. The future of Korean politics depends on genuine reform of the nomination system. But the prospects of a material change for the June gubernatorial and mayoral elections look dim.
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