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NEC to relax limits on campaigning

Presidential TV debate rules to be toughened

Campaigning verbally or via telephone even before the official election period begins should be allowed until the election day to enhance voters’ freedom of political expression, the National Election Commission said in its report.

Voters should also be allowed to invite a candidate or a preliminary candidate at town hall meetings or debates to discuss policies. Clauses banning printouts that show support or opposition toward a policy 180 days before election day should also be removed, the commission said.

But presidential candidates with support ratings of 10 percent or less should have limited participation in television debates, it suggested.

The nation’s top election watchdog said it has drawn up measures to enable wider campaigning channels but prevent reckless bids to improve the outdated campaigning rules.

The measures will be further reviewed and submitted to the National Assembly for consideration in June.

In order to better protect voters’ right to know, press and civic organizations will be allowed to evaluate candidates’ policies and host talks or debates, according to the NEC’s plans.

Through such measures, some of the clauses that “excessively restrict” the freedom of expression in relation to elections since 1994 would be abolished, the NEC said.

“We collected views from all sides of society and problems that occurred during last year’s parliamentary and presidential election,” the NEC said.

“It is hoped that it will be an opportunity for the regulation-centered election culture that has been going on for over 60 years to fundamentally transform.”

Presidential candidates with 10 percent or less in approval ratings will not be allowed to join the second round of the television debates. The third and final debate will only bring together two top runners, the NEC said. Such a measure was seen to respond to criticisms last year when minor leftist party candidate Lee Jung-hee participated in all three television forums regardless of her one-digit support ratings.

Additional measures are also being considered to prevent hasty presidential bids, such as by restricting withdrawals of candidates during the election period.

The controversial topic of whether to remove the central party’s nomination for regional elections to decentralize the power will also be further discussed, the commission said.

For better transparency of election funds, the income and expense status must be disclosed online within 48 hours.

Extending the hours of early voting, which was conducted for the first time in last month’s by-elections, from the current 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. will be considered as part of measures to raise voter turnout.

By Lee Joo-hee (