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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on Jan. 21)

2014/01/21 07:08

Rules for local elections

A partisan squabble is heating up over whether to abolish party nominations for candidates to run in municipal governments and councils in the upcoming June 4 local elections.

Last week, the ruling Saenuri Party reneged on its presidential election promise and made clear that it wants the current nomination system unchanged. Instead, the governing party proposed that the rival parties adopt an open primary system ― which allows ordinary citizens who have no party affiliation to cast votes for partisan candidates ― together.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP), which already reached an agreement on the scrapping of party nominations, lambasted the ruling party for backtracking from its pledge. On Sunday, independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo also urged President Park Geun-hye to make her stance on the nomination issue clear.

The ruling party alleges that abolishing party nominations in polls to elect mayors and local councilors could be unconstitutional, citing a Constitutional Court ruling in 2003. The court said that it was unconstitutional to prohibit candidates from publicizing which party they belonged to.

But this allegation may be going too far, given that the ruling didn’t find nominations unconstitutional. Furthermore, none can predict how the ruling, which was split six to three back then, will change, considering that the top court tends to reflect the stream of time and reality.

To be frank, the governing party appears to believe that scrapping the nomination system will increase the electoral chances of incumbent mayors and councilors, many of whom in Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan area belong to the largest opposition party.

True, elimination of party nominations, which was first introduced in 1995, will breed its own problems. First of all, it betrays the established principles of party politics and representative democracy. More important, regional big wigs will stand a better chance of being elected, causing the disadvantaged including women to find it far more difficult to enter politics.

Nonetheless, the mantra points to the abolition of the nomination system, just this time at least, as the DP argues.

Needless to say, voters have grappled with serious evils from the system of allowing parties to nominate candidates over the last two decades. The true sense of local autonomy ― grassroots democracy ― has been undermined as municipal governments and councils have been subordinate to central party politics, which often caused high-profile corruption cases.

President Park has disappointed voters by failing to deliver on her election promises repeatedly, but this core political reform pledge should be honored. She needs to clarify her position on this issue as soon as she returns from her overseas trip.