Reform panel to finalize plans today

By Joo Sang-min
Published December 22nd 2003 in Korea Herald

The National Assembly's special committee on political reform will hold a meeting today to finalize controversial issues such as changing the number of lawmakers and reorganizing constituencies before the general elections in April next year.

The rival parties agreed to vote on the proposal, if they fail to iron out their differences by today's deadline.

The most contentious issue hinges on how many lawmakers should be elected through direct voting as opposed to the proportional representation system and how to divide the country into differently sized constituencies depending on the dispersal of the population.

The three opposition parties - the Grand National Party, the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats - wanted to keep the current "single" electoral system, in which one lawmaker is elected from each district.

They also hope to allocate 100,000 people as the smallest constituency and 300,000 for the largest, so as to readjust the 243 seats that will be elected through direct voting.

But the pro-government Uri Party prefers to replace the current system with a "multiple-seat system," electing five or more lawmakers per constituency, in what they said was an effort to curtail regional favoritism.

The MDP's splinter party, which is loyal to President Roh Moo-hyun, also said that it would be willing to introduce a more complex system, in which urban areas choose the multiple-seat system and rural areas stick to the current single constituencies.

Political watchers said the three opposition parties would finalize the plan according to their own agendas, as they would effectively control the panel in the event of a vote.

As for the total number of lawmakers, the GNP wants to retain the current number of lawmakers at 273, including 30 seats under the proportional representation system, but the Uri Party and the MDP want to see 299 lawmakers and increase the seats to more than 55.

Currently, of the 273 lawmakers, 46 seats are distributed between the parties according to how many votes each of them receives. The parliamentary committee agreed to revise the current election law to allow voters to cast two ballots starting from the next elections - one for their preferred candidate, and the other for the party of their choice.

The GNP and ULD want to retain the current voting age, but the Uri Party and the MDP have been pushing to lower it from 20 to 19, thus enfranchising 800,000 more potential voters, to boost young people's participation in the voting process.

The Constitutional Court ruled in 2001 that an election law that allows the largest constituencies to be almost four times larger than the smallest, at a ration of 3.88:1, violates voters' equal rights.

It said the legislature should revise the law so as not to exceed the ratio of 3:1.


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