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[Editorial] Democratic deficit

Parties pick candidates in an undemocratic way

March 24, 2016 - 17:40 By 백희연

The three main political parties in Korea -- the ruling Saenuri Party, The Minjoo Party of Korea and the new People’s Party -- have all wrapped up the process of nominating candidates for the April 13 general election. Hence, a review of how they selected their candidates is in order.

In Korea, there has never been a general election in which political parties picked their candidates without any fuss, and this was no exception. In fact, the nomination process at each party was more conflict-ridden than before.

If the parties had selected their candidates in a fair and transparent manner, no internecine strife would have erupted. They did try to ensure fairness and transparency by holding open primaries using safe phone numbers, but they did not get very far, allowing factionalism and favoritism to hold sway in selecting candidates.

This was especially true of the Saenuri Party. The party’s candidate nomination committee went out of its way to help candidates loyal to President Park Geun-hye clinch the nomination.

The committee’s actions disappointed even the party’s staunch supporters, with its blatant attempts to put nonmainstream candidates at a disadvantage in primaries, even excluding them outright from the vetting process.

This undemocratic campaign reached its peak when the committee decided not to nominate a candidate in the constituency of Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the party’s former floor leader who was forced to resign from his post last year by the party’s main faction.

He was branded a traitor by President Park as he had sought to steer the nation’s economy in a direction different from that pursued by her.

The nomination committee neither officially excluded Yoo from the nomination process nor allowed him to compete in a primary. Instead, it pressured him to leave the party on his own, saying that his ideas did not match the party’s.

Yoo finally declared Wednesday that he would leave the party and run as an independent, calling the committee’s attitude toward him “anachronistic political retaliation.”

The party should be ashamed of kicking out Yoo. Its narrow-minded and mean-spirited attitude toward him and his followers deserves harsh criticism and will backfire on it in the election.

Factionalism has also driven the Minjoo Party into a leadership crisis.

The party mainstream, known as the pro-Roh faction as its members had followed the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, revolted against interim leader and campaign chief Kim Chong-in over his list of candidates for proportional representation.

They were furious as Kim had put his own preferences high on the list of candidates, including himself in second place. On the other hand, candidates supported by the pro-Roh faction were either excluded or placed near the bottom of the list, meaning they had little chance of being elected.

The party’s Central Committee, which was under the control of the pro-Roh faction, refused to endorse the candidate list, and altered the order of the candidates based on a vote by its members.

Taking the faction’s intervention as an insult, Kim threatened to resign, prompting the Central Committee to compromise. Kim wound up back in second place on the list of candidates, with some of his choices also high on the list.

Kim accepted the compromise and decided to stay on in the party. For him, however, the feud was a painful reminder that his efforts over the past two months to transform the party by straightening out the pro-Roh faction has had limited impact.

How political parties nominate candidates is just as important as who they pick. The three parties should remember that there is a price to pay when they select candidates in an undemocratic manner.