Those planning to run in the June gubernatorial and other local elections will start to register with the National Election Commission as potential candidates next month. But the election rules have yet to be set, with the ruling party dawdling on the legislation.
The key issue of contention is whether or not to continue to allow political parties to nominate those running for election to the posts of municipal mayor and municipal councils. With party nomination doing more harm than good, both the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party promised to ban it ahead of the presidential election in December 2012.
But the ruling party is backtracking from the election promise, from which it believes there is more to lose than to gain. The opposition, which adopted the ban as its official policy commitment, is pushing hard for its legislation. But many of the party’s lawmakers refuse to toe the line, as they believe continued party nomination will be of great help for their reelection.
In what was an attempt to muddy the waters, the ruling party recently made a surprise proposal to abolish municipal councils only to retreat, saying it had not been decided yet as an official policy. Instead, it is making a dubious claim that a ban on party nomination would run counter to the principle of representative politics and prove to be unconstitutional.
What is actually prompting the party to oppose the ban is its belief that the ban would enhance the chances of the incumbent mayors and council members being reelected, in particular in the municipalities of Seoul’s metropolitan area where the opposition has a strong presence. The ruling party also fears that, if candidacy is not regulated, many of its supporters would decide to run in the election and compete against one another in an electoral district, benefiting the opposition party.
If its memory is short, however, the ruling party should be reminded why it adopted a ban on party nomination as one of its election promises. Public opinion had turned against party nomination, which members of the National Assembly had virtually monopolized in their electoral districts.
It was not unusual for money to change hands between lawmakers and those in pursuit of party nomination. It also undermined fair competition in parliamentary elections, with those elected to a municipal council and to the mayoral post campaigning for their party’s parliamentary nominee in general elections. Another complaint was that municipal issues were often held hostage by conflicts between the rival parties in Seoul.
True, the ban’s downside is anything but negligible. As the ruling party says, representative politics would be shown the door in municipalities. Another problem is that women, the physically handicapped and other minorities would find it more difficult to enter into politics. On the other hand, it would be easier for landed proprietors and their ilk to buy their way into municipal politics.
Still, benefits would outweigh losses when nomination is banned. Moreover, failure to make good on Park’s election promise would not endear the ruling party to the electorate when the local elections are held on June 4.