Parties deadlocked on changes to constituencies

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Parties deadlocked on changes to constituencies

An independent committee given the job of redrawing Korea’s electoral map failed despite marathon talks, due to deep disagreement among committee members representing different political parties.

The electoral redistricting committee, which was appointed by the National Election Commission (NEC), said Monday that it failed to reach a consensus on how to redraw the electoral map for the general election next April. The ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) each appointed four members of the committee.

The ninth member is committee chief Kim Dae-nyeon, who comes from the election watchdog NEC.

“We very much regret to inform the public that we could not present a final decision on the redrawn electoral map by the Oct. 13 legal deadline,” the committee said in a statement released Tuesday. “While we agreed on the number of electoral districts, we hit obstacles to reaching an agreement on many issues due to disagreement among committee members, and the failure was due to partisan disputes among its members.”

The failure came after four days of talks. Oct. 13 was the deadline for the committee to submit its decision to the National Assembly.

The independent committee agreed last month to keep the number of elected parliamentary seats at 246 and had been working hard to determine which rural districts would lose their representatives and which urban districts would gain more.

Discussions on redrawing the electoral map began after the Constitutional Court ruled last year that the current constituencies resulted in unequal representation due to population changes. The court said the ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous must be lower than two to one.

The ratio is now three to one.

To meet the demand for the two-to-one ratio, a reduction in the number of elected parliamentary seats in rural areas has become the crucial change. Ruling and opposition lawmakers established the Special Committee on Political Reform in March to address the issue and decided in August that the number of total seats in the National Assembly would be kept at 300. It then delegated the task of redistricting to an independent committee under the NEC.

While the political establishment gave the job to a supposedly independent committee, the partisan divide paralyzed its ability to reach an agreement.

Members appointed by the ruling party insisted on a one-seat reduction in Gangwon, three in the Gyeongsang region and five in the Jeolla region. Members appointed by the NPAD called for a one-seat reduction in Gangwon, four in the Gyeongsang region and another four in the Jeolla region.

The Gyeongsang region is a stronghold for the conservative Saenuri Party, while Jeolla is a traditional support base for the NPAD.

To pass a resolution, at least six of the nine members must approve it.

The committee went so far as to confiscate committee members’ mobile phones to prevent them from taking directions from party headquarters during the talks, which apparently didn’t make any difference.

After the committee failed, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung blamed opposition leader Moon Jae-in.

“The trouble stems from Moon’s objection to any reduction in the proportional system,” Kim said at the National Assembly on Tuesday.

Kim is calling for a reduction in the number of proportional representative seats, which he claims would make up for reductions in lawmaker seats in rural areas. The opposition party would not agree on reducing the number of proportional representatives.

But NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul signaled a change in that position on Tuesday.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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