[PRO] A runoff benefits everyone

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[PRO] A runoff benefits everyone

* Is a runoff necessary?

Campaigners and voters alike were too preoccupied with the possibility of a candidate merger in the liberal camp to have a thorough debate and consider a vision for the incoming government even with the presidential election less than a month away. Experts are arguing for a runoff voting system, where in the case there is no winner by absolute majority in the first round, the two top candidates enter the next stage of voting. But critics say the two-round system would only add more political uncertainty. Here are two sides of the argument.

The run-up to this year’s presidential election has mostly been focused on whether or not the two liberal candidates will unite to fight their common enemy from the ruling party and if so, who will end up as the single candidate. Not surprisingly, the negotiations dragged on until they finally broke up. This happened because the two candidates and camps discussed mergers not for shared value but simply for the common goal of stealing power from the current governing party. They didn’t appear to contemplate the meaning of the merger and direction after their union. What mattered most was who would step aside and who would end up as the single candidate. Campaigners across the board and voters were entirely engrossed with the possibility and outcome of the union. Other issues and policies were buried.

A runoff system would have prevented this waste. If there had been a two-round system, the two contestants would not have had to worry about splitting votes against a ruling party candidate and instead pushed ahead with their individualistic beliefs and values. They would have tried to compete to win preferential votes with their vision, policies and capabilities. With the runoff system, we would not have had been in the silly situation of not knowing whose name would be on the ballot with less than a month left before election day.

The runoff vote also reinforces the legitimacy of the elected candidate. Turnout in presidential elections has been falling ever since the first direct presidential vote in 1987. It is because voters have not found a candidate or party worth heading to poll stations for. None have so far won by more than a majority. But the runoff vote requires a win by 50 percent. Otherwise voters have to return to polls for a runoff. The system can be congruous to the rule of majority to justify the legitimacy of democracy argued by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Moreover, a runoff can set the grounds for political unification. Cartel party theory does not simply apply to a legislative government. Empirical studies show that bipartisanship is possible in more than half of a presidential system - especially under a minority president. Cooperative politics in a presidential system can help raise stability and effectiveness in governance.

A political alliance can also strengthen representativeness in Korean political parties. Voters will feel their voice better represented. A runoff can at the same time vitalize activities and roles of political parties because it provides opportunities for parties to join forces or pursue a coalition government. Under the alliance, bipartisanship is possible under a multiparty system. Even under plural parties, it would be possible to group them under conservatives and liberals. The two-round system is the best solution to ease the fickle nature of Korean politics, enhance the legitimacy of elected power and rejuvenate political parties.

But the problem is putting it into action. Some say the Constitution would have to be amended to allow a two-round voting system while others say only the election law would have to be fixed. The 67th Article of the Constitution says when more than two gain the most votes, the one that wins the majority vote from a National Assembly with more than half present will be the president. It also says details of presidential elections should be laid out by a separate law.

The former provision could indicate support for majority rule. Instead of arguing whether it is right or wrong, the issue should be addressed as a way to offer voters more choices. It can extend the right to exercise people’s influence. At the same time the system can normalize the campaign process as a contest of policies as well as raise the legitimacy of elected power.

*The author is a political science professor of Dongguk University.
By Park Myung-ho
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