The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Get the job done

Delays in setting electoral boundaries, rules further limit chances for new contenders

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 14, 2023 - 05:30

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The preliminary candidate registration for the general election on April 10 opened this week, but once again, rival parties are dragging their feet to set electoral boundaries and rules.

Those who sign up as preliminary candidates can open an election office, hire up to three paid staff members, launch a fundraising organization, make phone calls, give out name cards and wear a sash to make themselves known.

Introduced in 2004, the preliminary registration system is designed to provide opportunities for political newbies to promote themselves before official campaigning begins just two weeks before the elections.

But with the electoral district map up in the air, there is little the new faces can do, and voters have no idea who is running in their constituencies.

For instance, a commission under the national election watchdog proposed splitting Hanam in Gyeonggi Province into two constituencies -- Hanam A and Hanam B. It remains unknown as to how the city’s 14 districts, with a total population of 320,000, will be divided, meaning preliminary candidates do not know where they will be running.

They have no choice but to wait for the incumbent lawmakers to draw the lines and set the rules, which they often put off until the last minute in pursuit of their own best interests.

By law, the electoral boundaries should be delimited a year before the election. Apparently, no one cares about the deadline.

In the previous general election in 2020, a final electoral district map was passed by the National Assembly 39 days before voters went to the polls. In the general elections in 2016, 2012 and 2008, the boundaries were set a little over 40 days prior to the vote.

Last week, following a lack of response from rival parties to repeated requests for a set of criteria for delimitation, the commission that handles the matter under the National Election Commission presented a draft that reduces the number of parliamentary seats in Seoul and North Jeolla Province by one each, and increases the number by one each in Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, however, strongly opposes the plan, saying it would be advantageous only for the ruling People Power Party.

Negotiations between the rival parties are also slow on how to prevent “satellite parties,” which they created in the 2020 election to take advantage of a new system called semi-mixed-member proportional representation. Both the People Power Party and the Democratic Party gained a few more proportional representation seats by sending their lawmakers to their new affiliated parties and later incorporating them. Upon criticism that the two parties exploited loopholes in the system intended to help minor parties boost their presence in parliament, the People Power Party now calls for returning to the parallel voting system, while the Democratic Party hasn’t decided on its position yet due to internal disagreements.

With the rules of the game hanging in the balance, discussions on reforms such as introducing multi-member constituencies or scrapping parliamentary immunity have been stalled.

While the rival parties are preoccupied with strategizing and scheming over whom to send where in the upcoming elections, they should keep in mind that voters are increasingly disillusioned with their reluctance to change for the better.

The ruling People Power Party’s innovation committee was disbanded earlier than scheduled as the party leadership refused to accept its recommendation to have senior members and heavyweights give up their bid for reelection or run in swing districts in the April elections. The Democratic Party is mired in internal strife after the party leadership revised last week the rules for its national convention and party nomination for the general elections in a way that benefits its current leader Lee Jae-myung and his supporters.

Getting the basic job of setting electoral boundaries and rules done without further delay would be one of the few ways left for either of the parties to gain voters' trust.