A tale of two billsThe ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party are engaged in a war of attrition over two bills proposed ahead of the December presidential election. Each of the bills seems to have reasonable grounds.
First, the ruling party’s bill is aimed at retrieving the government subsidy from a presidential candidate who drops out of the race. The subsidy has been provided to presidential candidates for their campaigns after the official registration of their candidacies. So the money should naturally be returned if the candidates quit the race.
The opposition party’s bill is to extend polling hours on election day from 6 p.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. This is aimed at enhancing people’s ability to vote, particularly those who have to work on holidays, including election day. No one opposes the idea of promoting people’s participation in democracy.
The problem, however, is the timing, with the election just around the corner, and putting the sly pursuit of party interests above noble causes. The Saenuri wants to recover 15 billion won ($13.7 million) which the DUP would receive from the National Election Commission when (or if) DUP candidate Moon Jae-in pulls out of the race in favor of independent contender Ahn Cheol-soo. The move is politically motivated: to try to avert the liberal camp’s ability to get behind a single candidate.
The DUP’s proposal to extend polling hours is also politically driven. Korea’s election day is a holiday and voters can cast ballots for 12 hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. But workers with hourly jobs or employees at small- and medium-sized businesses, who sometimes work on holidays, find it inconvenient to get to the polls on time. Guaranteeing their voting rights is very important. But the DUP abruptly came up with the bill on the assumption that most of those workers will be young people who support the liberal side.
The standoff originated with improper remarks by Lee Jung-hyun, public affairs chief of the Saenuri Party’s election committee. He proposed to the DUP on Monday that it pass the two bills at the same time in the Assembly without even having an internal discussion. Now the ruling party is floundering after Moon accepted Lee’s idea of a simultaneous passage of the bills.
This kind of politically motivated battle is not what voters want in an election year. Instead of seeking their own political interests, both ruling and opposition camps must work for democracy. And their election camps should exert all efforts to persuade voters through policy-oriented campaigns.