The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Vetting failures

Voters urged to weed out candidates with qualification problems in April 10 elections

By Korea Herald

Published : March 26, 2024 - 06:02

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In legislative elections, voters may expect candidates to have certain qualifications and attributes, such as competence, integrity and commitment to the rule of law.

In South Korea, however, it is due time for public expectations about such essential qualifications to be lowered, as some candidates nominated by major parties have problematic backgrounds, including criminal records.

The disappointing records were revealed as candidates completed their registrations last week for the April 10 general election where 300 National Assembly seats are available -- 254 directly contested seats and 46 proportional representation seats.

A total of 699 candidates have registered to compete in the 254 electoral districts, while 253 candidates from 38 parties have applied for proportional representation seats, according to the National Election Committee.

Compared with the previous elections in 2020, the competition ratio has fallen for both local electoral district seats and proportional representation seats, NEC data shows.

But voters would find it more confusing and difficult to identify their preferred candidates, as many come from more obscure “satellite parties,” through which major parties seek to grab more proportional representation seats that are allocated to parties in accordance with the total number of votes they receive.

The increase of satellite parties is largely due to what is called the “semi-mixed-member proportional representation system,” a system that assigns more seats according to party votes rather than voters for individual candidates.

The structural problem with the semi-mixed-member system has generated a host of issues. For instance, the extended list of satellite party candidates has resulted in the longest-ever ballot paper, measuring in at 51.7 centimeters, which exceeds the maximum ballot sorter limit of 46.9 cm. As a result, all votes must be manually counted, a massive waste of taxpayer money.

The rapid rise and fall of satellite parties itself is a huge waste of money, resources and personnel. In the 2020 elections, there were 35 registered parties. Now, only seven parties retain their identities for the forthcoming elections.

In fact, all the satellite parties that were temporarily created four years ago for proportional presentation seats are now gone after post-election mergers with the major parties.

This sheer absence of long-term plans and vision for the operation of political parties illustrates the backward nature of Korean party politics, something that disenchants voters with the shoddy election process itself.

More troubling for voters is shocking data about some candidates’ poor qualifications. More than 1 in 3 candidates -- 34.6 percent, to be exact -- for electoral districts has a criminal record. One candidate has 11 convictions, including embezzlement. For proportional representation seats, 1 in 4 candidates has a criminal record.

It is truly bewildering that major parties nominate so many ex-convicts as aspiring lawmakers, who are supposed to set an example as law-abiding citizens. The election-only satellite parties have made things worse by failing to filter out candidates with questionable records.

No wonder, then, that both the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea -- as well as their satellite parties -- have come under fire for nominating candidates who later turned out to have disqualifying records, such as massive land speculation and demotion for accepting free rounds of golf from lobbyists.

Another problem is that the proportion of candidates in their 20s and 30s stands at only 5.4 percent, suggesting that major parties have no will to tap into new political generations, despite their loud claims of pursuing a generational shift.

As parties have failed in vetting efforts, the responsibility to filter out unqualified candidates inevitably falls on the voters. It is essential for voters to closely examine whether candidates, including those with criminal records, pass the qualification standards to serve as representatives of the people, before casting their crucial votes.