Action speaks loudestPolitical reform is the hottest issue of the December presidential election. With the opposition Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in and his rival Ahn Cheol-soo finally reaching an agreement on “new politics,” voters can now see what the three presidential candidates, including Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party, mean when they speak about it. Their proposals vary from a revolutionary one - giving nomination rights for legislative elections to ordinary voters - to a controversial one - a downsizing of the number of lawmakers. Despite being a top priority and serious issue, implementation of political reform has long been delayed due to conflicts of interest among political parties. But a revamp must be implemented this time regardless of the election results.
Politicians can start with the easier bits, even during the remainder of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Our legislators receive 1.2 million won ($1,100) in pension payments every month from the age of 65 when they retire, even if they only serve for one day. That’s an excessive privilege that makes ordinary voters angry. The three candidates’ promise to scrap that perk must be put into action as soon as possible. Whoever gets elected must also guarantee the right of the prime minister - not the president - to nominate cabinet members.
The most crucial reform involves nomination of legislators, which has been a power exercised by political bigwigs in the past. Moon and Ahn pledged to return that power to the citizens, while Park proposed that both the ruling and opposition parties hold primaries on the same day. The current system in which political parties wield overwhelming influence in nominating representatives has had a destructive impact on our democracy as it deepens local councilmen’s subjugation to lawmakers representing their constituents.
The three contenders also vow to reduce the gargantuan size and role of the main parties. Our parties’ unique system of employing collective leadership based on a group of supreme council members has long been attacked. The presidential hopefuls should find better ways to maximize the constructive function of the collective leadership while minimizing its negative impacts.
Moon and Ahn also agreed to cut the number of lawmakers while increasing that of proportional representatives. Park is against the idea. Experts prioritize a standing committee-centered Assembly over an indiscriminate reduction in the number of lawmakers because the operation of the Assembly requires a certain number of legislators to run the session.