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[Editorial] Withdraw bills

Election bill may hurt democracy; Agency to probe senior officials may be abused

With the electoral reform bill laid by Speaker Moon Hee-sang at the plenary session of the National Assembly, democracy is doomed to be undermined.

The election system is in tatters as it was tampered with through a series of collusive dealings by a “four plus one consultative group” of representatives from the ruling Democratic Party, three minor parties and one splinter group. The bill, along with two other controversial ones, was fast-tracked to the National Assembly by the parties despite fierce objections by the major opposition Liberty Korea Party in April. Whether they were legally fast-tracked is questionable.

More concerning is a bill to establish an agency separate from the prosecution, which will investigate allegations against only high-ranking public officials. It is prone to degenerate into a law enforcement agency faithful solely to the president and the ruling party.

Under the current electoral system, voters elect 253 lawmakers directly. They also cast ballots for political parties so that 47 proportional representation (PR) seats can be distributed.

The PR seats are awarded in proportion to the percentage of voters’ support for parties. So, the PR seat distribution is unrelated to directly elected seats. However, that is not the case with the mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation formula put to a plenary session vote. It is not only complex but also favors minor parties.

When the bill was fast-tracked in April, the number of directly elected seats and PR seats was 225 and 75, respectively. It also permitted a candidate who loses an election by a thin margin to get a PR seat, though this rule was scrapped in the final version.

Then the bill was twisted time and again during negotiations by the four plus one group.

The tabled final version divides 300 seats into 253 directly elected and 47 PR ones, the same as the current system. Only 30 of the PR seats will be distributed under the MMP formula, with 17 seats divided in proportion to the percentage of voters’ support for parties as in the existing system.

If the total number of directly elected seats won by a party is larger than 300 seats multiplied by the percentage of voters’ support for the party, it will get none of the 30 PR seats under the MMP scheme. For example, if a party wins 100 seats from direct election and gets 30 percent of the voters’ support, it will be awarded none of the 30 PR seats to be distributed under the MMP formula, because 100 seats are greater than 90, the result of 300 times 30 percent.

In a bid to detour this rule apparently unfavorable to major parties, the Liberty Korea Party unveiled a plan to set up a new affiliated party that only seeks PR seats. The ruling party is said to be considering creating a similar party.

The current electoral system differs little from one adopted by most other democracies. But under the bill, the system is messed up with a complex calculation method. Above all, it has a crucial defect of lacking consensus with the largest opposition party.

With criticisms rising over the electoral reform, a senior lawmaker of a party belonging to the four plus one group said: “Voters do not need to know how the election formula works.” The group belittled voters. An election is not a game only for a few parties. If its system favors certain parties and it is difficult for voters to understand, it is not an election but a conspiracy.

The bill to set up an agency to investigate high-ranking public officials is a quid pro quo given to the ruling party in return for agreeing on electoral system changes to the liking of minor parties.

The agency targets about 7,200 high-ranking public officials, 5,000 of whom are judges and prosecutors. It has the authority to investigate and indict prosecutors and judges and its head is appointed by the president. The prosecution must notify suspicions involving high-ranking officials to the agency immediately. It will be able to influence prosecutors’ investigations and judges’ trials indirectly if they are unpalatable to the current government.

The ongoing investigations into power abuse, bribery and election meddling scandals surrounding a former justice minister, former Busan vice mayor and incumbent Ulsan mayor may fizzle out if the agency takes them over from the prosecution.

As it did in defending Cho Kuk, who resigned amid shameless corruption allegations against his family, the current regime has paid little attention to opposing popular sentiments to protect figures on its side. If the bill is approved, the agency will likely hush up suspicions unfavorable to the regime. It will effectively pave the road to dictatorship.

The fast-tracked bills must be dropped.