Watchdog for elections tinkers with some rules

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Watchdog for elections tinkers with some rules

The National Election Commission yesterday presented a series of proposed changes to the nation’s election law, including a plan to eliminate candidates with low ratings from presidential debates.

The election watchdog said yesterday it has prepared a series of revisions to improve the election system. The changes are intended to give more freedom to candidates to campaign and increase the transparency of campaign spending, the commission said.

The proposed changes will be submitted to the National Assembly in June for deliberation and voting.

According to the proposed changes, voters and candidates would be allowed to engage in offline campaign activities except for on Election Day itself. Telephone calls by campaigns will be allowed except for on Election Day.

Candidates will be allowed to promote themselves through phone calls before the official campaign period as long as they state that the calls are preliminary campaign activities.

“The changes will allow candidates to engage in campaign activities anytime,” said the election commission. “We will also allow wider promotion methods during the official campaign period.”

The National Election Commission also created a plan to modify televised debates in presidential elections. While all registered candidates will be given an opportunity to participate in the TV debate hosted by the National Election Broadcasting Debate Commission, candidates who scored less than 10 percent in the commission’s opinion poll will be eliminated from the second debate, according to the revision plan.

In the third televised debate, only the top two candidates will participate.

Currently, a presidential candidate from a party with more than five lawmakers, or who obtained more than 3 percent of the votes in a previous general or presidential election, can participate in a debate. A candidate who scored higher than an average of 5 percent in opinion polls over one month before the campaign period is also qualified.

During the December presidential election, Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party participated in two out of three TV debates against the major candidates, the Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye and the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in, despite her less than 1-percent support rate.

She used the debate to attack Park, bluntly saying her goal of running in the election was to stop Park from winning.

The commission also decided to come up with a revision to prevent a presidential candidate from dropping out of the race at the last minute. Lee dropped out of the race only three days before the election, although her political party received more than 2.7 billion won ($2.45 million) in state campaign subsidies.

The measure was nicknamed by some local media the “Lee Jung-hee prevention law,” and the commission said it will collect opinions from various fields to prepare its proposal.

To heighten voter turnout, the election commission also planned to extend the voting deadline from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in preliminary absentee voting. Extended voting hours were used in the April 24 by-election for the first time.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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