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[Editorial] Rules of the game

Approach to proportional representation, boundaries of most constituencies undecided

Feb. 2, 2024 - 05:31 By Korea Herald

With under 70 days left to the general election on April 10, South Korea's two main parties are yet to decide on the rules of the game. As separate splinter parties formed by former leaders of the People Power Party and the Democratic Party of Korea may or may not join forces, the process of setting election rules is likely to drag on until the last minute.

The key question is over the method of proportional representation, through which 47 lawmakers are elected to the 300-member National Assembly.

In the previous general election in 2020, the two main rival parties adopted a new system they called “semi-mixed-member proportional representation,” which was intended to help minor parties boost their presence in parliament. Both the People Power Party and the Democratic Party took advantage of the system, however, by having some of their lawmakers leave to create “satellite parties,” only to later reincorporate them. They both gained a few more proportional representation seats this way.

Upon criticism that the two parties exploited loopholes in the system, the People Power Party has called for a return to the parallel voting system, but the Democratic Party has not yet decided on its position due to internal disagreements.

When asked about election rules during a New Year’s press conference Wednesday, main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung said his party was still “carefully collecting opinions.”

Lee spent most of the press conference blaming the government and the ruling party for all the major problems Korea faces, which is nothing new.

Lee even said he did not think the stabbing attack on him in early January “was an act by an individual.” In indicting Lee’s 67-year-old assailant on charges of attempted murder and violation of the election law on Monday, prosecutors said they had concluded after investigating 114 people -- including the attacker’s relatives, acquaintances and people he spoke to on the phone -- that there were no additional accomplices, other than a 75-year-old man, or hidden forces behind the crime.

The ruling party, for its part, began taking steps to launch a satellite party on Wednesday, calling it a backup plan in case the majority-controlling opposition party decides to retain the semi-mixed-member proportional representation system.

Lee Nak-yon, a former prime minister, and others who have recently left the Democratic Party to create a new party support sticking to the semi-mixed-member system. Lee Jun-seok, the 38-year-old former leader of the People Power Party who recently founded a new party, has not stated which system he prefers.

The People Power Party and the Democratic Party are also discussing another option called “regional proportional representation,” which would divide the country into several regions and elect proportional representatives based on the parties’ support rate in each. The parties are reviewing both regional parallel and a regional semi-mixed-member proportional representation systems.

As for drawing the boundaries for constituencies, the legal deadline of which was April last year, the rival parties have begun talks but remain far from getting it done.

The constituencies of Seoul’s Jongno-gu and Jung-gu, which a National Election Commission panel that handles electoral district boundaries had proposed merging, will be left as they are, while Nowon-gu in Seoul, which had three seats in the parliament -- Nowon A, Nowon B and Nowon C -- will be reduced to two under a tentative agreement reached between the two main parties. A special parliamentary committee on political reform said Thursday that the parties sent over the tentative plan to the National Assembly Election Boundary Delimitation Commission.

The parties also agreed not to go ahead with the commission’s proposal to divide Chuncheon in Gangwon Province into Chuncheon A and Chuncheon B.

The parties, however, have not made any progress on merging or dividing other constituencies.