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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Oct. 31)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:01 October 31, 2019

No colluding for seats
:Minor parties seek to increase total number of lawmakers against popular sentiment

Minor opposition parties seek to increase the total number of lawmakers. Sim Sang-jeung, leader of the Justice Party, argued Sunday for increasing the number by 10 percent from 300 to 330. Then, Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the Bareunmirae Party, chimed in, saying his party must try to persuade people to assent to the idea. The Party for Democracy and Peace had already proposed increasing the figure.

In April when the three parties agreed with the ruling Democratic Party to fast track three items despite vehement opposition by the largest opposition Liberty Korea Party, the four parties took a position to maintain the total number of representatives at the current level.

The three items concern revising election law, creating an agency to investigate irregularities among high-ranking officials and adjusting investigation power between the prosecution and police.

The revised election bill agreed on by the four parties is said to favor the minor parties. Under the bill, the total number of lawmakers directly elected by geographical constituencies will decrease by 28 from 253 to 225, with the number of proportional representatives increasing from 47 to 75. The number of proportional representatives to be distributed to each party will be determined by a complicated calculation. Parties may or may not select their proportional representatives from those unsuccessful candidates who narrowly miss out on direct election. When applied to the results of the previous general election, the bill is said to have decreased the number of seats won by the current two largest parties, the Democratic Party and the Liberty Korea Party.

With the plenary-session vote on the revised election bill drawing near, the minor parties are making a new proposal to increase the total number of lawmakers. The ruling party is publically against the proposal, but quite a few lawmakers in the party are said to privately support it.

Against this backdrop, the minor parties will likely make a deal with the ruling party. The three parties want to increase the total number of lawmakers. To the ruling party, setting up a new investigation agency to target high-ranking officials is as important as revising election law.

The four parties trumpeted the revised election bill as "reform," but that is just cover for their true intentions. Their hidden intent is to make it easier to reduce the number of Liberty Korea Party seats and increase that of seats for the minor parties that have sometimes taken different lines from the main opposition party.

Election districts must be readjusted if the total number of representatives elected by ballot is to be reduced. Chaos is inevitable. Lawmakers will oppose the election law revision if their districts should be merged with others. Then it will be difficult to gather enough votes to pass the fast-tracked bills. So they are raising their voices for increasing the total number of lawmakers.

Few people would nod at arguments for increasing the total number of parliamentary seats. Lawmakers enjoy a number of privileges including an office, secretaries, a sedan and hefty allowances. But it is questionable if they are as productive as they enjoy privileges. Partisan strife stalling the parliament has seldom ceased.

The Justice Party proposed a freeze on the total amount of lawmaker allowances as a condition for increasing the number of lawmakers. But it will not be difficult for lawmakers to raise their allowances by justifying it either way. Rather than seek to increase the total number of representatives, the four parties should discuss reducing lawmaker privileges.

Arguing for increasing the total number of lawmakers is a cheap trick to eliminate the possibility of lawmakers opposing the revised election bill over possible change of election districts. The argument essentially does not differ from a proposal like "Let's increase the number of lawmakers and enjoy privileges together." It is a shameless proposal. Popular sentiment is wholly ignored.

Revising election law this way is neither fair nor just. The Liberty Korea Party proposed to eliminate all of the seats for proportional representatives and reduce the total number of lawmakers to 270. Though this proposal was snubbed, when compared with the greedy and shameless offer by the four parties, it sounds much better. Reducing or removing proportional representation seems to measure up to a true reform.
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