New rules tempt ruling party to start a satellite

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New rules tempt ruling party to start a satellite

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) finds itself in a dilemma over whether to form a satellite party for its proportional representatives in the upcoming April general elections, after several members suggested this may be the only recourse to defeat the main opposition United Future Party (UFP).

Last month, the UFP followed through on threats it made during a raucous partisan clash at the National Assembly in December over revisions to the electoral system by creating a satellite party called the Future Korea Party (FKP).

The changed electoral system uses a new calculation in which parties that fail to win enough constituency seats that correspond to their nationwide support margin could be compensated with proportional representatives (PR). Smaller parties would be able to expand their seats in the legislature, while the two major parties - the DP and UFP - could win fewer proportional representatives.

With the zero-sum aspect of the system endangering its prospects for April, the UFP hopes to entice its supporters to transfer their PR votes to the FKP, which would be unaffected no matter how many seats the UFP wins in district races.

The DP condemned the plan, arguing it was an attempt to exploit the new system in ways that could distort the voters’ will. Ruling party leaders, like floor leader Rep. Lee In-young, tried to deter speculation that the DP would follow suit with its own proportional party.

But recent polling showing the FKP could win more than 20 PR seats - out of 47 in total - have shook the ruling party, raising fears that the conservatives may gain a majority in the legislature in April and immobilize the Moon Jae-in administration.

Youn Kun-young, a former Blue House senior official and one of President Moon’s closest allies, said on a radio program on Friday that “the possibility of public opinion becoming distorted” as a result of the UFP’s actions warranted that the DP “leave open all possibilities” on how to approach the elections.

Rep. Sohn Hye-won, a nominally independent but de facto DP-aligned lawmaker, also said on her YouTube channel last week the liberals must not remain idle while the right undermines the new electoral system.

These remarks from key figures tied to the ruling party suggest the DP is in a quandary over how to approach the coming elections.

As it continues to enjoy the highest support numbers - in the mid 30s to low 40s - among all parties, the DP may have a chance to foil the UFP plan and prevent a conservative takeover of the National Assembly if it makes its own proportional party and channels votes from its supporters into the new party.

But doing so would not only undermine the basis of the new electoral system, which the party fought tooth and nail for amid the legislative chaos last year, but also risk its relationship with minor liberal parties in the National Assembly whose cooperation has been vital to push through the administration’s agenda.

In an attempt to preempt an about face from the DP, the leftist Justice Party on Friday said the ruling party would become “a global laughing stock” and fundamentally damage Korea’s democracy if it creates a satellite party.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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