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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Feb. 10)

All News 07:05 February 10, 2020

Keep neutral
Doubtful if election commission went too far by deciding on candidate nomination

The National Election Commission on Thursday banned "strategic nominations" of proportional representation candidates in the upcoming election for the National Assembly.

Parties have nominated proportional representation candidates strategically so far.

Strategic nomination means the selection of candidates based on the strategic judgment of party leaders without intraparty competition.

Currently strategic nomination is permitted without any restriction for candidates who run in single-member constituencies. But the commission has banned strategic nomination for proportional representation candidates in the April 15 general election.

It is hard to understand why only proportional representation candidates must not be nominated strategically.

The commission cites the revised election law that says it can cancel the registration of proportional representation candidates if they are not nominated through a "democratic procedure." Without explaining the procedure, it banned strategic nominations, raising concerns that activities of political parties may be discouraged, not encouraged.

The point of "democratic procedure" is understandable, but it is doubtful whether the commission is overreaching by sticking its nose even in nomination procedures. It will likely be embroiled in controversies, over whether it is overriding its authority while undermining the political neutrality of election management. Critics view the ban as a drag on the Future Korea Party, among others, launched by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party as its sister party that will only send proportional representation candidates under the new election system.

The pan-ruling bloc pushed through the election bill over fierce protests by the Liberty Korea Party late last year in an under-the-table deal to pass another bill to create an agency to investigate and indict only high-ranking officials.

At that time, the commission said nothing about the changes in election rules, but now it cites the law in an apparent attempt to tie the hands of the main opposition party.

In January last year, President Moon Jae-in appointed a former special adviser for his 2017 presidential election campaign as a standing member of the election commission despite protests by opposition parties. Critics view the appointment as a strategic long-term move to obstruct the Liberty Korea Party over election issues.

Last month, the commission banned the use of "proportional" in naming a political party. It was a decision apparently to bar the Liberty Korea Party, among others, from naming its satellite party "Proportional Liberty Korea Party."

The Liberty Korea Party was preparing to launch the new outfit by that name to overcome disadvantages it could suffer under the revised election law.

Of course, it is not normal to create such satellite parties, but the ruling party made the election landscape abnormal by pushing through the election law advantageous to four minor parties. The Liberty Korea Party created a satellite party for self-defense. But the commission which is required to abide by political neutrality acted apparently against the main opposition party, first over the naming of its satellite party and then over candidate nomination.

Despite the spread of the latest novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, President Moon went to Busan on Thursday to attend an event. About 300 participants including him wore face masks.

Officially, it was a ceremony to mark an agreement on "Busan-style job creation and mutual growth," but the related investment agreement had already been signed between a car parts maker and Busan Metropolitan City in July last year. The agreement ceremony was effectively held again so Moon could attend for publicity.

He visited Busan and South Gyeongsang Province adjacent to the city on 16 occasions last year. The region, traditionally supportive of the Liberty Korea Party, is strategically important for the ruling party in the general election.

Moon emphasized it is better for the government to err on the safe side of caution in responding to the Wuhan coronavirus. But despite the diffusion of the outbreak, he went to Busan for the apparently rehashed ceremony.

It is questionable whether he took the risk of visiting Busan for the ceremony to counter the campaign of the ruling party.

The full text of the prosecution's indictment of 13 figures including former Cheong Wa Dae officials charged with meddling in the Ulsan mayoral election last year was disclosed by news media despite the justice minister's refusal to make it public.

A phrase in the indictment reads: "Political neutrality in elections is required from the president and public servants assisting the president much more than from other civil servants."

Political neutrality of public officials is a matter of high concern.

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