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Election commission should finetune election-overhaul proposals

Election commission should finetune election-overhaul proposals

Posted May. 03, 2013 08:55,   


The National Election Commission on Thursday announced a package of proposals calling for a sweeping overhaul of election rules, including creating an environment in which voters are at the center of elections and drastically deregulating candidates’ election campaigns. However, there are concerns that the sweeping deregulation could cause campaigns to overheat and affect fairness.

The behavior of Lee Jung-hee, former candidate of the minor opposition United Progressive Party in last year’s presidential election who dropped out in the middle of the race, was a direct example showing the absurdity in South Korea’s election system. Even though she showed just around a 1 percent approval rating, she sat side by side for television debates with two leading candidates, the ruling Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye and the main opposition Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in, whose showings were over 40 percent each. Saying that she was running in order to make Park lose, Lee unilaterally attacked the Saenuri candidate and disturbing the TV debates’ purpose. Lee, however, withdrew from the race after two rounds of TV debates and her party took more than 2.7 billion won (2.5 million U.S. dollars) in state campaign subsidy. All of those occurred because of loopholes in systematic loopholes.

In that regard, the election watchdog is right in proposing that presidential candidates with less than 10 percent of approval ratings be excluded in the second round of TV debates and that only two leading candidates participate in the third round. It is worth considering allowing only top-two frontrunners to participate in TV debates. It is problematic that the election commission’s proposal does not include a measure to not give campaign subsidies to candidates who drop out. Indiscreet candidacy unifications or candidacy registrations aimed only at receiving state campaign subsidies should be uprooted.

The commission’s other proposals, including extending advance balloting for two hours, allowing voters living overseas to register online or by mail once and for all, and allowing media outlets to hold dialogue or debates with candidates anytime, are positive in that they benefit voters. Allowing preliminary candidacy registrations can bring down the entry barrier to political debutants. Requiring candidates to disclose their campaign revenues and expenditures within 48 hours after an election is over will also likely contribute to increase transparency in campaign financing.

There is a saying that too much is as bad as too little. Korea should borrow even the best systems and practices from advanced foreign countries in consideration of the nation’s situation. The National Election Commission should fine-tune its proposals by holding sufficient discussions and debates in order to reflect realities as much as possible while minimizing side effects.