South Korean Civil Society Urges the Special Committee on Political Reform to Reform the Election System
The Center for National Assembly Watch of People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) has supported political reform movements by monitoring and evaluating activities of the members of the National Assembly, urging reforms to the political system and organizing voter campaigns during elections. The center has filed a constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court asserting that the current electoral system infringes electoral rights by failing to lower the voting age and restricting voter campaigns. More- over, the center has provided comprehensive political reform bills, filed petitions with the National Assembly, and launched nationwide campaigns to push through these reforms.
On 3 March 2015, the National Assembly of South Korea passed a resolution to form a Special Committee on Political Reform to discuss ways to improve the political system including plans for demarcating constituency. The civil society, which has insisted during the past few years on increasing the number of seats of proportional representation and on guaranteeing voters' freedom of expression, held a press conference to deliver its demands to the Special Committee on Political Reform. Its major demands are as follows:
Increase the number of seats allocated by proportional representation to reflect voices of various groups and preferences of voters.
The current electoral system in South Korea distorts the allocation of parliamentary seats and does not fully reflect voter preferences, especially those of minorities and various vocational groups. Therefore, it is urgent to push through constituency demarcation reforms and to raise the number of seats allocated by proportional representation. Nevertheless, certain voices among politicians even claim the number of proportional seats should be lowered to maintain the number of seats for their local districts. The Special Committee on Political Reform should discuss electoral reform in ways that resolve not only regionalism but also underrepresentation of various vocational groups, sexual minorities, immi- grants and women.
Reform the current Constituency Demarcation Committee, which only is an advisory body to a permanent and independent committee
In order to ensure fair constituency demarcating, it is required to change the system in which the Constituency Demarcation Committee, which is composed of external experts, submits a bill on constituency demarcation to the National Assembly, which only needs to "respect" the constituency demarcation bill. Thus, currently, the constituency demarcation bill submitted to the National Assembly is not legally binding, and as a result, the National Assembly has been distorting the constituency demarcation proposed by the Commit- tee in favor of their interests. Given that both the ruling and the opposition parties have recently promised to increase the authority of the Constituency Demarcation Committee and to allow its independent operation, the bill on reforming the Constituency Demarcation Committee should be passed without delay.
Guarantee the fundamental political rights of voters
The current Public Official Election Act restricts voters' rights to freedom of opinion and expression by stipulating a vague standard of "defamation" and applies comprehensive regulations to offline election campaigns. The National Assembly should revise the Public Official Election Act so as to guarantee voters' rights to freedom of opinion and expression. In addition, voters who voluntarily organize political associations are currently restricted by rules containing excessive requirements to establish a political party and allowing only nationwide parties. Grassroots parties should be allowed in order to prevent the monopoly of a particular political party in certain areas. It is required that the Special Committee on Political Reform collects opinions of civil society and hold responsible discussions on this matter.
Lastly, it must be noted that the discus- sions on political reform should not hinge on the interests of members of the National Assembly from local constituencies and the major political parties. Selection of members of the National Assembly representing the voters' voices and enactment of elector- al reforms regarding the right to vote are issues not only for politicians but also for all voters. South Korean civil society organizations demanded the National Assembly, the institution representing the will of the people, initiate political reforms through pan-national discussions and preparation of plans to accomplish reform.