Members on the parliamentary special committee on political reform have been sitting on their hands over the work to establish guidelines for redrawing electoral districts across the country.
Irritated by the snail-paced progress, the head of an independent panel tasked with rezoning constituencies asked the committee last week to suggest concrete guidelines by Aug. 13. Election officials say the deadline should be met if the panel is to submit its rezoning scheme to parliament six months before the next general election set for April 2016 as required by law.
But the political reform committee comprised of 20 lawmakers, all but one of whom are from the two main parties, has turned a deaf ear to the request with no plans to convene its next session soon.
It is no easy task to draw up electoral districts in a fair and just manner. As shown in previous cases, incumbent lawmakers’ adherence to vested interests has often resulted in distorting the parliamentary constituency system. Legislators in conflict over other sensitive issues have struck the same chord in redrawing electoral districts to their advantage.
The worsening distortion led the Constitutional Court last year to rule that the population deviation between the most and least populous constituencies should be narrowed from the current 3-1 to 2-1. This readjustment is overdue, given that other advanced democracies have stricter limits on the population deviation among electoral districts.
Some of the current 246 parliamentary constituencies are set to be merged or abolished in order to be in accord with the ruling aimed at ensuring each voter exercises more equal voting rights. The rezoning work is also supposed to take into account a proposal made by the National Election Commission early this year to increase the number of proportional representation seats in the 300-member National Assembly.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy last month suggested increasing the number of lawmakers to 369 only to withdraw the proposal following a strong public backlash. It now insists on electing more lawmakers through the proportional representation system.
In contrast, the ruling Saenuri Party has called for increasing the number of lawmakers elected from constituencies and accordingly cutting the portion of proportional representation seats.
The different positions taken by the parties mirror their calculation on what scheme would help them get more parliamentary seats in the forthcoming election. But it is not justifiable that partisan interests are holding back the work to set up a fair and just electoral system that leaves no room for unconstitutionality.
The ruling and main opposition parties should ensure that the bipartisan committee, which was formed in March, will work out guidelines for redrawing electoral districts as soon as possible. An early establishment of specific guidelines would allow the independent panel to take time to rezone constituencies so as to maximize the equivalence of ballots cast by each voter.
The two main parties should quickly agree to freeze the number of lawmakers at the current level though the agreement might still fail to satisfy some people who call for reducing it to enhance parliamentary efficiency. Then, the ruling party needs to show more flexibility on increasing the portion of proportional representation seats.
It is true that the system has been largely used by party bosses to give favor to their associates rather than having served to draft in fresh and competent figures from various walks of life. But it is unreasonable to find fault with the system itself and the problems can be overcome by improving the process of selecting candidates.