Independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo on Tuesday joined the growing criticism against the ruling Saenuri Party’s move to retain the controversial party-led candidate selection method for local elections, calling for its removal.
Ahn’s panel, widely considered to be a preparatory committee for a new political party, said that the current method should be replaced with a more transparent system to prevent alleged deep-rooted practices associated with the nomination process.
The panel’s statement came after the main opposition Democratic Party lashed out at the ruling party for its move to keep the method intact, arguing this went against President Park Geun-hye’s pre-election campaign promises.
Saenuri officials are sticking to the current nomination system, claiming that without party control over the candidate selection, unqualified candidates could monopolize party tickets for elections while minorities such as women and the disabled could be left out in the cold.
Critics point out the current nomination process gives excessive power to party leaders, undermining fairness in in-house candidacy competitions. The system has been tainted with scandals, involving political opportunists colluding with party officials in attempts to gain candidacy spots.
“Oftentimes, those nominated in party primaries as candidates in local elections are former aides to lawmakers at the National Assembly, or support groups that funded prominent politicians in Seoul,” said Choi Young-jin, professor of political science at Chung-Ang University.
“Both the Saenuri and the Democratic Party have rarely nominated minorities to local candidacy posts anyways.”
Analysts also blame a series of problems in local governments on the party-centered nominations system.
“The current system undermines local politics by chaining regional elections to political disputes in Seoul,” said Kim Taeil, professor of political science at Yeungnam University in Daegu. “Local politics is dominated by a few interest groups.”
Local governments are notoriously inefficient and ridden with factionalism, according to experts. Regional interest blocs dominate local legislatures, passing bills favorable to their socioeconomic interests. Korea’s provinces often function under one-party systems unopposed by political rivals.
In the 2010 local elections, for example, the DP won 28 of the 36 mayoral elections in the North and South Jeolla provinces while the Grand National Party, the predecessor of today’s Saenuri Party, won 27 of 41 mayoral seats in the North and South Gyeongsang provinces.
“There is no ‘right’ answer,” said Kim. “The question is about which election system is going to be the best possible solution to our current problems.”
The Saenuri Party will attempt to pass related legislation before the candidacy registration deadlines for the June local elections next month.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)