National redistricting would see Seoul gain more seats, sway
A political storm loomed yesterday as lawmakers braced themselves for a possible overhaul in the country’s legislative election system.
“Tasks concerning political reform are increasing at the legislature,” said Moon Hee-sang, the interim leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). “There is no reason for us to wait. The National Assembly must start operating the special committee on political reform.”
The Constitutional Court handed down a landmark ruling on Thursday that the current apportionment system should be revised to fix unequal representation caused by disproportionate populations. The court said the ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous must be lower than two to one and that redistricting must be completed by Dec. 31, 2015. Currently, that ratio is three to one.
Earlier on Thursday in a speech at the National Assembly, Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung also said the special political reform committee must be established.
The rules of game in the Korean politics, in which elections have traditionally been heavily dominated by regionalism, are expected to change following the redistricting.
The number of seats allocated to Gyeongsang and Jeolla will be reduced, while the capital region is expected to gain more representation. Gyeongsang region is considered the traditional stronghold for the ruling party, while the Jeolla region is considered the home turf of the NPAD.
In the current 300-seat legislature, 246 are elected lawmakers while the rest are proportional representatives. Among the 246 constituencies, 112 are located in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi. By the current population, the number of seats in the capital region will change to 134.
In legislative elections, voters in rural areas are valued relatively highly, while voters in metropolitan districts with concentrated populations were undervalued by the political parties.
“In the 1960s, the ruling party used to be strong in the farming villages, while the opposition was favored in the cities,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a political science professor at Myongji University. “So the ruling party created the constituency map that will allow more seats to be allocated to the rural areas, and that system was used until now. The recent ruling by the Constitutional Court was intended to stress the importance of equality in the representation of votes as much as the importance of regional representation.”
If the seats in the capital region will be increased, the ruling and opposition parties will undoubtedly create election pledges focused more on the urban populations.
“The capital region has many floating voters with moderate political views,” said Sohn Byoung-kwon, a political science professor at ChungAng University. “When a political party stresses ideology too much, its candidates struggle. In the future, the ruling and opposition parties will both have to work to win their votes, so they will likely move toward the center of the ideological spectrum.”
But while both the Saenuri and the NPAD said they will respect the Constitutional Court’s decision, their specific reactions were different.
“It is a ruling that kills all the rural areas,” said a senior Saenuri official. “The court ignored the reality of the provincial towns because it was obsessed with legal interpretations.”
The New Politics Alliance for Democracy also said it wants to overhaul not only the apportionment system, but the entire election system.
“We have to think about all the possibilities, including introducing the multiple-member district system, the mixed-member proportional system and providing proportional seats to those who narrowly lost district elections,” said NPAD spokesman Kim Sung-soo.
Some in the ruling party also supported the idea of an overhaul of the election system for the legislature.
“It was never easy to adjust one or two constituencies,” said Saenuri Representative Won Yoo-chul. “Imagine adjusting dozens of them. It is possible that the nation will have a serious discussion on changing the current single-member constituency to a multiple-member district system.”
While the National Assembly was tasked to revise the Public Officers Election Act governing the legislative election to redraw the nation’s constituencies, it remains to be seen if the special committee on political reform will actually be in charge of the redistricting.
BY SER MYO-JA, KIM JUNG-HA [email@example.com]