Impasse holds on new electoral map

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Impasse holds on new electoral map

The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties failed Tuesday to agree on how to redraw the electoral map for the April general election in what was the last day of deliberations for a special parliamentary committee tasked with the reconfiguration.

Preliminary candidate registration also began Tuesday for April’s polls despite the absence of a final decision on the most basic requisite of the election process: the number of districts to be contested.

Ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung met with his opposition counterpart Moon Jae-in, the leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), in an attempt to finalize an electoral map with National Assembly speaker Chung Ui-hwa serving as arbiter.

The talks, however, ended inconclusively.

Saenuri floor leader Won Yoo-chul, who also took part in the meeting, said that while the two parties agreed on raising the number of elected constituencies by about seven - thereby reducing the number of elected proportional seats by the same number - the two differed on the specifics of the proportional system.

Before the meeting, Chung said he would deploy “special countermeasures” to resolve the gridlock, hinting at the possibility that he may choose to wield his authority as Assembly speaker to put the issue to a vote by the end of the year.

The Assembly speaker is allowed to exercise his authority for a direct referral of a bill for a vote only when a natural disaster occurs; a war or a national emergency occurs; or when he reaches an agreement with parties.

If the parties fail to pass a new electoral constituency bill by the end of this year, the current district system will be invalid starting Jan. 1, an unprecedented scenario in the lead-up to the general election.

People who registered to run as preliminary candidates starting Tuesday would technically be campaigning in districts that may be rendered invalid next year if parliament does not approve a new electoral map by the end of this year.

With no final decision Tuesday, aspiring contenders registered their candidacies without knowledge of which district they would eventually represent.

“If a district that I have been working on for my candidacy becomes a different electoral district, I wouldn’t even be able to vote for myself,” said Cho Kwang-hwan, who is preparing to run in a district in Namyangju, Gyeonggi.

Cho also said he has been unable to prepare or recruit campaign staff due to the uncertainty.

The legislature has been working on creating a new electoral constituency map following a Constitutional Court ruling in 2014 rendering the current map unconstitutional. The court ordered redistricting to fix unequal representation caused by population changes, specifically the migration of people from rural areas to cities.

According to the ruling, 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 court also ruled the new electoral constituencies must be introduced on Jan. 1, 2016.

To meet that demand, about 60 electoral districts out of the current 246 electoral constituencies are subject to readjustments.

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

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