April election still in limbo amid impasse

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April election still in limbo amid impasse

National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa warned Monday that Korea’s general election, scheduled to take place in April, could potentially be delayed without a consensus on a new electoral map.

“If no decision is made this week, we may not be able to hold the general election,” Chung said. “To hold the election [on April 13], the election law must be approved by Feb. 23. Taking this schedule into account, this week is crucial.”

However, he denied the possibility that he would use his authority as Assembly speaker to present an electoral map if the ruling and opposition parties could not reach a compromise.

“It would be chaos if I presented a plan,” he said. “The need for the two parties to agree is absolute.”

On Monday, the floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Minjoo Party sat down for yet another round of negotiations, mediated by Chung, but failed to make progress.

The Constitutional Court ruled in 2014 that the current electoral map resulted in unequal representation due to population changes and gave the legislature until end of 2015 to fix the disproportion. The court said the ratio of the most populous electoral district to the least populous must be lower than 2 to 1. The current ratio is 3 to 1.

Of the 300 seats in the National Assembly, 246 are for elected lawmakers, while the remainder is allotted for proportional representatives.

Because both parties have been unsuccessful in hashing out a new map, their candidate selections have also been disturbed. The two sides planned to hold primaries based on the current electoral map, though the National Election Commission (NEC) ruled Friday that the primary outcomes would not be binding without a legitimate revision.

The delay has also affected plans by both parties to use secured phone numbers for their primaries. By law, parties are required to register their telephone primary plans with the NEC 23 days before telephone polls. If the new electoral map is passed on Feb. 23, the primaries could take place as early as mid-March.

The NEC said Monday that it paid more than 9.99 billion won ($82.7 million) of state subsidies to the country’s political parties for the first quarter of this year.

The Saenuri Party received 47 percent of total state subsidies, or more than 4.69 billion won, while the Minjoo Party received 41.5 percent. The People’s Party, founded by Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, received 6.2 percent, with the Justice Party taking the rest.

The state subsidies are provided based on the number of lawmakers affiliated with each political party and the numbers of votes they won in the 2012 general election.

A political party that forms what is known as a negotiation bloc is entitled to a significantly larger sum. A negotiation bloc is required to have a minimum of 20 lawmakers and can send representatives to negotiate legislative calendars.

Currently, the Saenuri and Minjoo parties are negotiation blocs, and with 17 lawmakers, the People’s Party is just three lawmakers shy.

If it were a negotiation bloc, the People’s Party would receive an additional 1.2 billion won.

If it manages to form a negotiation bloc by March 28, Ahn’s party will receive 7.28 billion won in election subsidies. Otherwise, it will receive 2.48 billion won.

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

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