Panel passes election revision bills, but far from reaching compromise on other changes

By Joo Sang-min
Published January 27th 2004 in The Korea Herald

Parliament's political reform committee has agreed on three election revisions but is a long way from reaching consensus on other major changes.

Committee members resolved issues such as cutting out corporate election campaign donations and smoothing out the playing field for rookie candidates who are often at a disadvantage to incumbent lawmakers when trying to get out their messages to voters.

But the committee failed to iron out differences on the number of parliamentary seats and how to reorganize constituencies. Members, who represent the National Assembly's four parties, remain at odds despite their policy coordinators having approved a plan.

The coordinators yesterday reached a tentative agreement on proposed changes to the Elections Law, which would see each riding have a population of between 105,000 and 315,000 voters. The current population requirement ranges from 90,000 to 340,000.

The plan would not increase the number of seats in the Assembly, which now stands at 273, including the Speaker. It would redistribute ridings to reflect current populations across the nation and make for more equitable parliamentary representation.

They also agreed on a new distribution of seats to be allocated for proportional representation and direct voting.

Under current law 46 seats are distributed among the parties based on how many votes each receives. The coordinators recommend reducing this number to 36. This means about 237 legislators would be elected by direct voting, compared to 227 now.

Despite stalemates on those issues, the election reform committee did have some success yesterday.

The committee approved amendments to the Elections Law to neutralize incumbent politicians' apparent advantages.

Rookie candidates will be permitted to distribute name cards and e-mail their profiles to voters as early as 120 days prior to elections, while the official campaign period will shrink to 14 days from 17 days. Legislators fined more than 3 million won for violating the law automatically will be relieved of their seats.

Under the current law, parliamentary candidates are prohibited from starting campaigns more than 17 days before voting day.

The Political Funds Law will also be revised to prohibit companies and organizations from making donations in any amount to political parties. A company is now allowed to donate up to 250 million won per year. Individuals can still make personal contributions.

To cut the cost of elections, parties' local district offices will be shut down under changes to the Political Parties Law, which will also require that female politicians fill more than half the seats allocated under the proportional representation system.

The changes the committee agreed to have been referred to the National Assembly for final approval sometime during the current session.

The contentious issues are still subject to further discussion by the committee.

(smjoo@heraldm.com)