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[Newsmaker] Feud rages over local election rules

Jan. 16, 2014 - 20:51 By Korea Herald
Activists supporting the abolition of the candidate nomination system for local elections call on the ruling Saenuri Party to follow through with President Park Geun-hye’s campaign pledge outside the party’s office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap News)

The political arena is swamped by talk of June 4 local elections, but the political parties continue to bicker over one of its most basic rules.

Abolishing party nominations for candidates for provincial governments and councils was central to President Park Geun-hye’s political reform pledge. The system was introduced in 2006 as part of political reform measures. However, it has since been abused leading to numerous cases of corruption and other irregularities.

The ruling Saenuri Party, however, appears to be backtracking, saying that the change could be unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Hwang Woo-yea suggested open primary elections as an alternative to candidate nomination and called for the DP’s cooperation.

The suggestion has been followed by comments backing up views that the Saenuri Party has changed its mind.

“Various problems, including that regarding its unconstitutionality, are increasing day by day,” Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan said on Thursday. “There is a need to quickly confirm the party’s position, which will be confirmed at the general meeting next week.”

The ruling party argues that abolishing the system is potentially unconstitutional, citing the Constitutional Court’s ruling in 2003. In its ruling, the court said that it was unconstitutional to prohibit provincial candidates from publicizing which party they belonged to.

The opposition party, however, has a different view on the same ruling. Its interpretation is that the ruling does not concern the candidate nomination system.

The issue, which has now been contended for more than a decade, has a hidden twist. Unlike today, the predecessor of the DP was the defender of the nomination system not the Grand National Party, which has since become the Saenuri Party.

Regardless of their predecessor’s position, the current DP lawmakers are pressuring the ruling party to abolish the system.

“The Saenuri Party’s irresponsible discarding (of a pledge) like an old shoe after having made a promise to the public in the last presidential election is being repeated,” DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun said.

He added that the ruling party was breaking a promise with the public in order to protect its grip on power.

“I make it clear that the Saenuri Party will not be able to avoid the people’s judgment on its obsession with power.”

The DP is also honing in on the president’s silence on the issue.

Calling the president’s silence “violence,” DP floor spokesman Rep. Park Soo-hyun called on Park to clarify her opinion on the issue. The DP lawmaker also questioned the reasoning behind the proposal to abolish the nomination system in her campaign pledges.

“(The Saenuri Party) talked of possible unconstitutionality, why then was it pledged when (the ruling party) was aware of this point? This needs to be answered,” the lawmaker said.

By Choi He-suk (