Regional bastions solid for local polls

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Regional bastions solid for local polls

The time-honored - and much lamented - regionalism of Korean politics has a grip on the June 2 local elections, as the Grand National Party and the Democratic Party have apparently given up the fight in each other’s strongholds.

The deadline for candidate registration is tomorrow. According to the Grand National Party, it has so far named 68 candidates for 70 elections in the Gyeongsang region, the ruling party’s traditional stronghold.

In contrast, the party has only filled nominations for 10 percent of the races being fought in the Jeolla region: Out of 41 races, it has four candidates.

The Democratic Party hasn’t done much better. The main opposition party has completed its selection of 40 candidates in the Jeolla region, its traditional stronghold, where 41 officials will be elected. In Gyeongsang, it has nominees for only 13 of the 70 available posts.

Such an imbalance in nominations only deepens the monopoly of a political party in its traditional stronghold, experts said, and provides no check on power wielded by that party and its elected officials.

Local legislative councils are supposed to keep a check on regional government heads, but the same trend of regionalism also dominates local legislative council elections.

The Grand National Party is fielding only one legislative council candidate in North Jeolla, while giving up on Gwangju and South Jeolla. The Democrats’ situation in Gyeongsang’s local legislative councils is little different. Only about 10 candidates from the DP will run.

“Because political parties are benefiting from regionalism, they enjoy supremacy in their traditional areas,” said Lee Cheol-hee, a senior analyst at the Korea Society Opinion Institute. “As the tradition continues, competition and checks and balances on power simply disappear. And corruption automatically appears.”

The corruption scandal surrounding Um Chang-sub, former head of Ulju County in North Gyeongsang Province, was a widely reported example. Um, a Grand National, received a Supreme Court conviction in late 2008 for taking bribes from builders and lost his seat.

The Democratic Party also has matching scandals. Kim Jin-ak, a Democrat, who lost his post as Imsil County head in North Jeolla, was convicted by the Supreme Court in January for receiving bribes from builders.

As of March 17, 29 local government heads in the Gyeongsang region who were members of the Grand National Party have faced corruption accusations and were investigated by the prosecution.

The situation is similar for the Democrats. In Jeolla, 19 local government heads, all Democrats, have been investigated.

“To resolve the ill effects of regionalism and the political parties’ supremacy in their strongholds, we should think about modifying the election system, such as increasing the number of proportional representations in each region,” said Jaung Hoon, a politics professor at Chung-Ang University.

Lee of the Korea Society Opinion Institute proposes a plan of consolidating electoral districts as a way to ease the perennial regionalism.

“Political parties must realize that it is an act of self-denial when they give up a district by not fielding candidates,” Lee said.


By Lee Ka-young, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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