A suspicious move for electoral change

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A suspicious move for electoral change

 The government is proposing a special law allowing greater choices in seating mayoral, gubernatorial, district and local council leadership. The outline suggests allowing local councils elect local administrative heads along with direct votes by residents. The move can be deemed too hasty due to the short history of autonomous governments in Korea and can confuse the voters ahead of the June 1 local elections.

The draft was unveiled by Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol during a National Assembly meeting. Under the proposal, the ministry is pursuing a special act to diversify the structure of local governments and proposes three new ways to elect local government heads.

One is to have local assemblies elect a local government head if outside experts in public administration and management apply for the job. The model is being employed by some U.S. states. Two is modeled after the British model where the local assembly chooses the head of the administration among councilmen. The third is to have residents determine heads of their local government, but leave the authority on appointment, audit, organization and budget to the local assemblies as being done in Japan.

The ministry claims that the move is not sudden but is based on the amended Local Government Act which passed the National Assembly in December 2020 and became effective since Jan. 13. The revised act stipulates that organization structure of local governments can change according to the law. There is also a provision about holding a referendum on any changes to the structure of the local assembly or executing institutions.

The ministry has been moving speedily on its plan. It has held online seminars with metropolitan and local governments earlier this month and asked for feedback until Feb. 24. Even if the special act passes through the National Assembly, the changes won’t affect the upcoming vote in the June 1 local elections, but may be employed from the local governments starting 2026.

Experts raise concern about the rashness. An indirect representation system would infringe on the keystone of the local government act that began with direct vote in 1995. If local councils dominated by regional power select the administrative chief, the influence would become bigger and won’t be able to keep power in check.

Also suspicious is why the special act that can change the foundation of local governments is being pursued just three months ahead of the local election. Jeon has long been a politician loyal to President Moon Jae-in. The changes must go through more debates after the local elections are held in June.
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