Immediately after the four political parties excluding the main opposition Liberty Korea Party decided to fast-track an election reform bill, they are publicly calling for increasing the number of seats in the National Assembly. At a lawmakers meeting last Thursday, the minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP) openly opposed reducing the number of electoral districts, which the four parties had previously agreed upon. Park Jie-won, a PDP lawmaker, called for a 10 percent increase in the number of parliamentary seats, which now totals 300. Lee Yong-ho, an independent lawmaker with close links with the ruling Democratic Party, went as far as to argue that the number should be increased to 360. While the ruling party has remained silent publicly, an increasing number of its lawmakers are opposing a reduction – particularly those whose electoral districts are to be integrated with others.
The electoral reform bill, which the four parties put on a fast track, calls for the adoption of a mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system in which parliamentary seats are tied to the percentage of voters' support for different parties. The total number of parliamentary seats will remain unchanged at 300 under the bill, but the number of directly elected seats will be reduced by 28 while the number of proportional representation seats will be increased by the same number. If the bill is passed, seven electoral districts will be eliminated in Seoul, five in Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province and six in Gwangju, North Jeolla and South Jeolla Provinces. Under the MMP system, it is possible that the total number of seats will exceed 300. But the parties agreed to put the 300 cap on the total number of seats in consideration of negative public views about increasing parliamentary seats.
Now that the decision to fast-track the bill has been made, the four parties' lawmakers are increasingly calling for changing the direction to expanding the total number of seats. Various opinion polls show that Korean voters are overwhelmingly against any rise in the number of National Assembly seats. Such an about-face is a mockery of the electorate and a cunning trick for maintaining their political vested interest to insist on increasing the number of lawmakers.
Fast-tracking is not about determining the content of a bill but a procedure for legislation. The four parties’ electoral reform bill has just been put on the table for discussions. It is nothing but the first step for sufficient debates and discussions for up to 330 days. What the four parties should do now is not to spread the call for increasing the number of parliamentary seats but to make a reasonable electoral reform bill by restoring the dialogue channel with the Liberty Korea Party. The main opposition party should also work out a realistic reform bill, rather than calling for abolishing the proportional representation system.