Bareunmirae lawmakers bid to leave party overruled

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Bareunmirae lawmakers bid to leave party overruled

A local court granted an injunction Monday overturning eight proportional lawmakers’ bids to end their memberships with the Bareunmirae Party to join other parties, triggering political chaos less than a month before the general elections.

The Seoul Southern District Court granted an injunction sought by the Party for People’s Livelihoods (PPL), created in February by the merger of three political groups that mainly have their basis in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces. The Bareunmirae Party is one of the three parties that participated in the PPL.

Earlier this month, the PPL asked the court to stop the effectiveness of a decision made at the Bareunmirae Party’s lawmakers’ assembly on Feb. 18, where nine proportional lawmakers expelled themselves. They effectively lost Bareunmirae memberships but kept their seats.

As the court granted the injunction, their departures from the Bareunmirae Party were effectively void.

While Rep. Choi Do-ja joined the PPL after the expulsion, eight proportional lawmakers joined other parties. Six lawmakers joined the largest opposition United Future Party (UFP), while Rep. Lee Tae-kyu joined Ahn Cheol-soo’s People’s Party. Rep. Lee Sang-don remained independent.

At the time, then Bareunmirae Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu argued that the expulsions were illegal. He had said an ethics committee must approve an expulsion first, but the lawmakers skipped the process. After the PPL was created, it asked the court on March 4 to overturn the expulsions of eight lawmakers, excluding for Rep. Choi.

“The eight proportional lawmakers now belong to the PPL,” Kang Shin-eop, spokesman of the party, said after the court granted the injunction. “In addition to our 18 lawmakers, eight are added. So, we have 26 lawmakers, enough to form a negotiation bloc inside the legislature.”

The situation, however, is complex, as four of the eight lawmakers already won nominations by the UFP to run in constituencies. A fifth lawmaker who joined the UFP is participating in the party’s primary.

Rep. Lee Tae-kyu also applied for a proportional nomination with the People’s Party.

According to Article 47 of the Public Official Election Act, a political party can recommend its member as a candidate. For them to keep the current nominations, they must leave the PPL first and then join the UFP or the People’s Party again. During the course, they will lose their proportional lawmaker seats. They are also open to attacks from their opponents in those parties.

“It was a comedy for them to attempt to expel themselves,” said Kim Jeong-hwa, a co-chair of the PPL. “They deserve this outcome.”

While the injunction is temporary until a formal ruling is made, it will likely set a precedent in similar cases. The strategies of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), which is participating in a coalition of proportional lawmakers, and the UFP, which created the satellite Future Korea Party to win more proportional lawmakers, will inevitably be affected.

The precondition of the DP’s coalition was that proportional candidates of several liberal parties will join a platform party, win and then return to their original parties. For them to go back to their original parties while keeping the proportional seats, the coalition party must be dismantled or they must be expelled from the party.

Dismantling the coalition is unwise as its backup list of proportional candidates will also lose power. If the proportional lawmakers are unable to serve their duties, no one can succeed the seats. For example, if the coalition created a list of 30 candidates and 20 of them won, the 20 lawmakers will keep their seats after the coalition is dismantled. But if anyone loses a seat, it will be left vacant, instead of being succeeded by the 21st candidate.

The only way to preserve the seats is by keeping the coalition as a ghost party, while its lawmakers are expelled through due process. The court’s injunction on Monday made clear that it is critical to respect all processes to expel a lawmaker. The Future Korea Party will have a similar dilemma when its lawmakers try to return to the UFP.

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