Two-way TV debate is the answer

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Two-way TV debate is the answer

The Lee Jung-hee shock batters Korean society. Despite our exemplary industrialization and democratization, Korea still does not know how to run a TV debate for a presidential election. A candidate from a minority party with less than 1 percent support from voters nearly ruined the debate through her signature instigation, over-the-top denunciation and lopsided arguments. Her only allies are a few members of the Unified Progressive Party and other radical groups. Most voters expect a repeat performance from Lee in the upcoming second and third TV debates on Dec. 10 and 16. The televised debates long delayed by the “Ahn Cheol-soo factor” are now heading toward becoming a full-fledged debacle, thanks to the maverick’s persistent and inappropriate attacks on her rivals.

For effective debates, the election law should be amended to limit participants to the two or three leading candidates, as in the United States, France and United Kingdom. The current election law, however, can turn the debate into a venue for six contenders to publicize their political views, as in the 2007 election, or a farce led by a candidate with virtually no popular support, as in the first TV debate this year. The time for candidates to speak, too, should be allotted based on the total of their time, not on one to three minutes for each issue, to guarantee a heated, concentrated debate. As a law revision is physically impossible in this election, lawmakers need to devise a quick fix.

First, the two leading candidates - Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party - could refuse to participate in the second and third TV debates. Instead, Park and Moon should face off in a two-way debate organized by television companies, not the National Election Commission (NEC). Though Moon has accepted the idea, Park refused, citing her busy campaign schedule. If the two candidates don’t join the NEC-sponsored debate, they should be able to find the time.

In the 2007 presidential election, KBS and MBC organized a three-way debate among Lee Myung-bak, Chung Dong-young and Lee Hoi-chang based on the standards of a minimum of 10 percent support. Then two minority candidates filed a suit and won.

If Park and Moon decide to organize their own debates, Lee and other candidates could file lawsuits. But the court must not stick to its 5-year-old judgment given the immense shock from Lee. The court must allow the two-way debate so it can effectively represent the views of “responsible candidates,” not radical ones from minority parties.

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