Justices at the Constitutional Court agreed, and ordered the National Assembly to amend the Public Official Election Act by at least the end of next year.
The plaintiffs claimed various constituencies throughout Korea deserved more representatives in parliament. They demanded changes to current laws awarding the same number of parliamentary seats to voting districts that have drastically different numbers of constituents.
|Constitutional Court president Park Han-chul enters a court room on Thursday. (Yonhap)|
Current laws require a region to have at least 100,000 citizens to hold a seat in parliament. Each lawmaker is allowed to represent a maximum of 300,000 residents.
But the decree creates large population disparities, with districts that have three times as many constituents as less-populated districts enjoying the same number of legislators.
The plaintiffs in Thursday’s ruling said the Gangnam-A voting district in southern Seoul and the much less-populated district of Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang Province, were represented by the same number of lawmakers.
They also said there were more lawmakers from the Jeolla provinces than the Chungcheong provinces, although the latter region had a higher number of constituents.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the population disparity between the largest and the smallest constituency ― a ratio of nearly 3-to-1 ― did not conform to the Constitution. The ruling received the support of six of the nine Constitutional Court justices, who demanded that lawmakers decrease the ratio to less than 2:1.
When a law is found not to conform to the Constitution, the law is upheld until the concerned act is revised.
“The standard of limiting the population disparity to 3 to 1 can give rise to unreasonable inequality in the value of the vote,” the court said in the ruling.
“Equality of value of the vote is the starting point of the principle of people’s sovereignty, and must take precedence over National Assembly members’ representation.”
Spokesmen for the country’s main parties issued mixed responses. Kim Sung-soo of the main opposition party New Politics Alliance for Democracy expressed concern over basing districts on population numbers.
“We are concerned that the interests of our farmers and fishing communities will be less respected with the changes,” he said.
Ruling Saenuri Party spokesperson Rep. Park Dae-chul said that if the changes are implemented, increasing urbanization could disadvantage parliamentary representation for rural regions.
By Choi He-suk and Jeong Hunny