Electoral map has to be redrawn

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Electoral map has to be redrawn

The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled the national electoral constituency map unconstitutional, ordering redistricting to fix unequal representation caused by population disproportions.

With the ruling, the court set a new standard for districts for which the legislature will have to revise the election law. The court said the ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous must be lower than two to one. Currently, that ratio is three to one.

The ruling is expected to restructure the entire political landscape of the country before the next general election on April 13, 2016.

The court said the current constituencies will be maintained for the time being, but the election law should be revised to complete the redistricting by Dec. 31, 2015.

A group of six voters filed a petition in 2012 challenging the current apportionment system. They maintained that their constituencies, including Seoul’s Gangnam A District, had far larger populations than other constituencies. As a result, voters in the more populous district were under-represented in the political system, they argued.

Of the court’s nine-member panel, six ruled that the current apportionment system, stated in Article 25 Clause 2 of the Public Official Election Act, is incompatible with the country’s Constitution.

Three justices, however, disagreed, arguing there was no need to overhaul the system. They said the drastic economic and population gaps between metropolitan cities and rural areas are a social problem and there are still reasons for greater representation of under-developed regions.

Six other similar petitions were filed to the Constitutional Court over the past years, including one presented by Saenuri Rep. Chung Woo-taik, whose constituency is located in Cheongju of North Chungcheong.

He argued that the Chungcheong provinces have a bigger population than Jeolla, but they have five less seats in the National Assembly, thus Chungcheong voters were under-represented in the legislature.

The Constitutional Court merged the seven cases filed by a total of 160 voters and Chung, and issued a combined ruling yesterday.

“Applying the three-to-one ratio causes too much inequality in the representation of votes,” the court said.

“Giving each vote equal weight is the starting point of popular sovereignty and it must have priority over lawmakers’ representation for regions.”

The court also said the current system may allow a situation in which votes won by a victorious candidate in a district with a smaller population could be smaller than the votes of a defeated candidate in a larger constituency.

As of last month, there were 246 constituencies for the 300-member National Assembly. The remaining seats are allocated to proportional representatives.

With the country’s population as of last month, a constituency will have to have a minimum population of 138,984 and a maximum population of 277,966 in the future. Currently, 62 of the 246 districts are either short or exceed those limits.

If the map is redrawn under the current election system, the number of lawmakers representing Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi will be increased while rural areas in Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces are expected to lose lawmakers.

Politicians yesterday reacted sensitively to the decision while calculating their parties’ potential gains and losses. Both ruling and opposition parties said they respected the ruling but expressed concerns.

“We are worried that the redistricting of the constituencies will cause radical changes and create turmoil in the political arena and among the people,” said Park Dae-chul, spokesman of the ruling Saenuri Party.

“The populations are concentrated in large cities and we have to think seriously about the reduced representation of rural areas.”

“It is regretful that the representations of farming and fishing regions were not considered enough,” said Kim Sung-soo, spokesman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

The National Assembly approves an electoral district map before a general election, which takes place every four years, with some modifications to reflect changing demographics.

Major changes, however, only took place when the Constitutional Court handed out new standards.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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