Members of the National Assembly have dual status. On one hand, they represent the legislature, with powers and responsibilities divided among the three branches of government. On the other, most of them represent an electoral district whose constituents have elected them to the National Assembly.
Of immediate concern to voters, however, is district representation. It is only a matter of course that constituents in a district, when an election comes around, desire to pick the one candidate that they believe will best represent them.
But the voters’ wishes are ignored more often than not when political parties start the process of selecting their nominees. In what they call strategic nominations, they select those whom they regard as crucial to their election strategies. Still worse, factional strife often has a hand in this practice.
In the selection process, they pay little regard to those who have long cultivated rapport with constituents, either as a long-term district resident aspiring for election to the National Assembly or an incumbent lawmaker spending much time on his constituency work.
A case in point is the Dongjak B district in Seoul, whose representative gave up his National Assembly seat to run in the Seoul mayoral race last month. For the July 30 by-election, both the ruling party and the main opposition party nominated people with no connection to the electoral district in the past. They made strategic nominations for several other districts as well for the by-elections in which 15 seats are up for grabs.
The two parties may defend their decision on strategic nominations, claiming that the outcome of the by-elections is too crucial to do away with them. Indeed, it is critical to the ruling party, which wishes to win four or more seats to keep the National Assembly under its control. It is also critical to the main opposition party, which wishes to take majority status in alliance with smaller parties.
Yet, there is no disputing that strategic nominations also resulted from attempts to reconcile divergent factional interests.
This is not to claim that no strategic nominations are needed. But the parties will have to use them sparingly next time if they are to help foster grassroots democracy.