South Korean President Moon Jae-in made clear in an opening remark of a luncheon at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae with floor leaders of the five parties on Thursday, saying, “I strongly support the reform of election system that can properly guarantee proportionality and representability.” The floor leaders, however, did not make any detailed comments in relation to his remark. Nevertheless, at a point where the president explicitly expressed his intention, this is the right moment to embark on negotiations over reforming the electorate system, which the National Assembly has been avoiding endlessly.
As President Moon said on Thursday that he “hesitated as the president’s position may become an obstacle in discussions at the National Assembly,” the electorate system reform is completely up to the National Assembly. The issue, however, has been regarded as “belling the cat” to the National Assembly as the interests of individual parliamentarians are acutely connected. Although it is not a constitutional matter, it is closely related to reforming the power structure such as the presidential system or parliamentary system. The system of proportional representation, which was arranged to supplement the current single-member electorate system that inevitably caused serious disproportion between the number of votes of each party and the number of seats as well as giving rise to regionalism party, has not been working well. Improving the proportional representation system has now become the task of this era that should not be left unattended.
Korean public would all agree that the single-member electorate system, where the one parliamentarian who receives the most votes at a region becomes elected, inflicts a side effect of a particular party monopolizing a certain region. Accordingly, diverse opinions, such as transforming the current system to medium and major electorate system, adopting local proportionate representation system, a system of electing a candidate who lost by a narrow vote, and bicameral system that requires constitutional amendment have been proposed. If the current system is transformed into medium and major electorate system that elects as little as two and as many as five candidates per electoral district by combining the regions, it could alleviate the structure where a particular party monopolizes a certain region. As reforming the electoral system is directly connected with their jobs, it is not likely for parliamentarians, regardless of their party, to consent to such change at a heartbeat.
When the 20th election of the members of the National Assembly was held in 2015, the ruling and opposition parties engaged in negotiations over reforming the electorate district system but adopting the proportionate representation system by region and linkage failed to become realized, ultimately ending up in minor adjustments to the electorate district. Back then, incumbent President Moon was the party leader, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy pushed for strengthening proportionate representation system while the Saenuri Party argued for increasing local seats. It is however, true that the Democratic Party of Korea, which has become the ruling party, reversed its presidential campaign pledge and is now lingering affection towards single-member electorate system.
As President Moon urged for electorate system reform, discussions within the ruling party is also likely to begin in earnest. Candidates for the party representative election need to reveal their opinions on reforming the electorate system. In representative democracy, it is important how precisely the opinions of citizens are reflected in political decision-making. It is now time for both the ruling and opposition parties to reform the electorate district that suits the future and corresponds to the purpose of the electorate system, which is all about representing the citizen and the region.