The countdown will start for the June 4 local elections when those who have set their sights on provincial and metropolitan posts start to register as potential candidates Tuesday. Yet, the main parties are still wrangling over a proposal to change the rules of the game.
On registration with the National Election Commission on Tuesday, a potential candidate for the post of provincial governor, metropolitan mayor or education superintendent will be permitted to engage in limited electioneering, which includes opening a campaign office and handing out name cards to potential voters. They will be allowed to start full-fledged campaigns on May 22, six days after the two-day period of registration as confirmed candidates.
Similar preliminary registration will be permitted for all other local posts, except for those in counties, on Feb. 21. Those planning to run for election to the posts of county mayor or county council member will be allowed to register on March 23.
But it has not yet been determined whether those running in wards in metropolitan cities and counties in provinces will be banned from seeking party nomination. A bipartisan accord on the issue is long overdue, creating much inconvenience for those planning to run for municipal posts.
The proposed ban is what President Park Geun-hye and her opposition rival committed to during the 2012 presidential election. The rationale was that party nomination did more harm than good, ostensibly because it helped party politics in Seoul hold municipal affairs hostage. But a more serious problem was corruption, with hush money changing hands between those running for election to municipal posts and members of the National Assembly, who control their party nomination.
The opposition Democratic Party demands that the ruling Saenuri Party honor President Park’s election promise. But the ruling party is backtracking from it, making a dubious claim that the proposed ban may be unconstitutional.
By doing so, the ruling party is ignoring a popular demand. According to recent polls conducted in two provinces and four metropolises, more than 60 percent of respondents in Seoul, Incheon, Gwangju, Gyeonggi and South Chungcheong supported the proposal to ban party nominations. Busan had a lower support rate but it was still as high as 58.5 percent.
No less discomfiting is what the ruling party did at the ad hoc committee on political reform at the National Assembly. The party, withdrawing its earlier proposal to abolish the ward councils in the seven metropolises, agreed with the opposition party to increase the nation’s total number of ward council members by 13. The two parties also agreed to increase the total number of county council members by 21.
With registration as potential candidates for municipal posts fast approaching, the ruling party cannot waste any more time on the issue of honoring the president’s election promise. It will have to make a final decision on the issue as soon as possible. If it decides not to ban party nominations, it will owe an apology to the public. It will be the same with the president.