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[News Analysis] Minor parties lose foothold in parliament

A civil worker removes campaign posters in central Seoul’s Jongno on Thursday, a day after nationwide parliamentary elections. (Yonhap)
A civil worker removes campaign posters in central Seoul’s Jongno on Thursday, a day after nationwide parliamentary elections. (Yonhap)

In Wednesday’s parliamentary election to select 300 lawmakers, a revised electoral system was applied for the first time to open the doors wider for minor parties. But it only caused the opposite effect due to trickery by prominent parties.

Out of 47 proportional representative seats, the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition United Future Party, took 17 and 19, respectively, by creating satellite parties to exploit the new parliamentary election formula called semi-mixed member proportional representation system.

Falling far short of securing at least 20 parliamentary seats, none of minor parties are qualified to create a formal negotiation body to prevent large parties from abusing their legislative power.

Only 15 slots out of 300 were granted to three minor parties.

The progressive Justice Party, which was initially expected to be the biggest beneficiary of the introduction of the scheme secured five proportional representative seats.

The left-wing party’s chief Shim Sang-jeong was the only one who won a constituency seat among 77 candidates the party fielded, bringing the total seats to six.

“When I declared that there should be at least one party that abides by principle, we expected some results,” Shim said Thursday.

In mid-March, Shim refused to form a coalition with the Democratic Party to create an affiliate party for proportional representative slots.

As the ruling party and its satellite Citizen Party managed to have a clear majority in parliament, the Justice Party is expected to lose its leverage for unified alliance or coalition with the ruling party.

The upside is that the Justice Party garnered 9.6 percent of votes for the proportional representation slots, taking the third-largest vote share after two satellite parties of the two large parties despite scattered left-wing supporters.

Following a failure to win a single seat in the election, the Minsaeng Party chief Sohn Hak-kyu offered his resignation Thursday.

“The electoral law should be revised to remedy shortcomings of the mixed member proportional representation system. Political parties that don’t field candidates for constituency vote should not be allowed to take proportional representative seats,” he said.

On Monday, Sohn said they would seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the registration approval process of the ruling and main opposition parties’ respective satellite entities.

Trying to break away from old politics, former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo launched the People’s Party on Feb. 23, but only received lukewarm response from voters that granted three seats.

“We wanted to promote rational reforms that would solve the problems of our society and settle pragmatic and centrist way of politics by overcoming factional politics but we were not good enough,” Ahn said in a statement on Thursday.

Sohn Hye-won, a senior member of the Open Minjoo Party, which secured three seats, said its fate will depend on the Democratic Party. It is a proportional representation party comprised of former Democratic Party members. The party’s another senior member Jeong Bong-ju announced he would step down following controversy over abusive words he directed at the leadership of the ruling party.

The election results marked the failure to reflect the purpose of the hard-won semi-mixed member proportional representation system that caused a monthslong political spat and filibuster in the National Assembly last year.

The system was introduced to ensconce diverse minor parties at the parliament as votes for them have been underrepresented in the previous scheme.

Minor parties were supposed to have a better chance of securing 30 of the 47 proportional representation seats to offset inequities produced by the district seat results.

The opposition United Future Party, which has vehemently opposed the new system, calling it a “grand scheme of the ruling party to solidify its grip on power,” created a satellite party called the Future Korea Party. Soon after, the Citizen Party, the ruling party’s satellite party, was launched.

Kim Hyung-chul, a professor at Sungkonghoe University, said the two parties that created satellite parties should take responsibility.

“The problem is not the mixed member proportional representation system. It is politicians who distorted and used the system for their own sake,” he said.

By Park Han-na (