The main opposition party’s proposal to increase the number of lawmakers has come under strong public criticism. It deserves scolding for, among other things, ignoring the prevailing public belief that the National Assembly is not doing its job well.
The proposal, made by the New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s self-reform committee, suggested that the parliament have seats for 369 lawmakers, including 123 to be elected under the proportional representation system. The current comparable figures are 300 and 54.
NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul went further: He said that his party would push to increase the number of lawmakers to 390, 130 of them to be elected under the proportional representation.
Both Kim and Lee say that their proposal would help curb regionalism in parliamentary elections -- the conservative ruling party’s domination of southeastern regions and the NPAD’s control of the southwestern provinces. Now voters elect only one lawmaker in each constituency and besides them, 54 lawmakers are elected under a nationwide proportional representation system.
The NPAD proposal is similar to one offered by the National Election Commission last February. It divided the country into six proportional representation zones to allocate parliamentary seats according to the percentage of votes obtained by parties in each constituency.
There is no doubt that we should strive to ease the deep-rooted regional bias, which is called the No. 1 evil in Korean politics. Nevertheless, the NPAD proposal does not make sense in many respects.
First, the proposal came from an utterly wrong platform. The NPAD formed the reform committee to resuscitate the party that had been staggering from a series of election defeats.
Then its primary job should be to work out measures to redress its problems like the deep schism between its rival factions, which has already led to the departure of some leading members like former presidential candidate Chung Dong-young and former Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae.
There is talk of more desertions and possibility of the deserters forming new opposition parties. Under these circumstances, the reform panel would do well to mind its own business, rather than poking its nose into something that goes beyond its realm.
Another -- and obviously bigger -- problem with the NPAD proposal is that it grossly runs counter to public sentiment. The National Assembly and its members are among the least respected institutions in the country -- a recent survey found that only about 17 percent of the public has confidence in the parliament.
There are many reasons why the public has such a low level of trust in the legislature: There are many unqualified lawmakers -- in terms of the level of their expertise as well as language and behavior -- and they put their partisan and individual interests ahead of national interests. It is usual for the parliament to be deadlocked for months due to partisan standoff.
Worst of all, corruption is common among the parliamentarians. Most recently, Rep. Park Ki-choon, an NPAD lawmaker who heads the powerful Land and Transportation Committee, has been embroiled in a graft case. He was questioned by prosecutors Wednesday.
Things like this increase the calls for reducing the number of lawmakers, cutting the power of the parliament and prerogatives given to them. We wonder whether Kim and Lee ever heard about the fact that we already have a higher ratio of lawmakers: One lawmaker in Korea represents about 160,000 people, whereas the same figures are 260,000 people in Japan and 700,000 in the United States.
While proposing the zonal proportional representation system, the NEC kept the number of lawmakers at the current 300 -- 200, or 46 fewer than now, to be elected in direct vote and the rest 100 as proportional representatives. In all regards, the proposal is appropriate.