Surrendering their rights

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Surrendering their rights

If the proportional representation voting system is revised — tying parties’ voting strength to voter support instead of the current winner-take-all formula — it would bring about landmark change to the Korea’s political landscape. Floor leaders of five political parties agreed to redesign the electoral system during an ad-hoc session in January where they vowed to come up with a new system by April, a deadline in confirming constituencies a year before the parliamentary election in April 2020.

There has been a serious gap between the voters’ choices and legislative seats under the current proportional representation system. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) gained only 25.5 percent in party preferential vote during the 2016 general elections and yet won 123 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly. The People’s Party, a spin-off party from DP, gained 38 seats despite its party voting ratio of 26.7 percent. In the legislature, only 47 seats are reserved for proportional representation. Since the representation does not fairly represent district choices, the largest parities receive seat bonuses whereas smaller parties are disadvantaged or deprived of any seats.

When applied with party approval ratio, the DP’s seats would be reduced to 110, while People’s Party’s increases to 83. The system would be more true to proportional representation. But before fixing the electoral system, the parties must make changes first.

The parties should not have the 2020 elections in mind when rewriting the voting system. Many worry about extreme groups joining the legislature. In Germany, proportional representation is denied to parties with less than 5 percent.

Parties also must vow to reform their methods of nominating candidates. Big wigs and figures favored by the party always topped the proportional candidate list regardless of their qualification. The reform is meaningless if the system designed to increase the number of proportional representatives only strengthens the party leadership’s power. The electoral reform must come hand-in-hand with democratization within political parties.

Moreover, lawmakers must be ready to surrender their vested rights. The increase in proportional representative seats must be accompanied by cuts in salaries of legislators. Voters won’t disagree to increase our representatives if they are willing to settle for less pay. Without such actions, the move to increase proportional representation can only raise suspicion about legislators trying to stretch their power.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 17, Page 34
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