To reform the National Assembly

By Jay Kim

The political theater of nominating candidates to run for National Assembly seats has come to a close. Those who received a nomination from their parties are happy with the results, looking radiant in interviews, but most of those who were left out complain of unfairness.

People even say that one can bear a loss in an election, but one can never forget the anger from being left out of the nominations.

The question is why any political party should have such an important process as nominations performed by its central organization, be it a process of strategic nomination or primary election. I once asked the leadership of a party whether they should let the people have the power of nomination, like the U.S. political system does.

Their answer was that since, unlike Americans, people in Korea fall short in political knowledge and judgment, parties should do the job on behalf of the people to achieve political reform by weeding out politicians.

This made me wonder if they have ever succeeded in replacing old politicians with new talents through the nomination. Looking at the people that have been nominated this time, many of the candidates of the opposition party are just the same old faces, though those of the ruling party look a little fresher. Does Korea really lack new talents for political office?

Furthermore, watching the opposition party claiming they “have finally achieved the unification of opposition parties that the people have been longing for” at their press conference, I doubted whether that was really what the people of Korea had longed for.

Korean citizens, busy making a living, cannot but look at the unification as a political show, thinking that it was only for those politicians to look out for their own interests and that they would obviously part ways after the election.

From what I hear, there are currently more than 36 registered political parties, as parties unite on one side while new parties are being created on the other side.

In fact, the simplest way to replace old politicians in the Assembly is to limit the numbers of terms of a lawmaker by not allowing him to serve more than three terms.

It is not right that the members of the Assembly are allowed to return for fifth or sixth terms, especially after they passed a law restricting the head of a local government and township councils including city councilmen from serving more than three terms.

What I suggest is that they should not be allowed to run for the Assembly once they have served three terms, not that they can run again by disappearing for a while after three terms. This would automatically bring a change of faces to the Assembly. The case of California in the U.S. is an example of this.

Recently, the Assembly rushed through a bill to increase the number of its seats to 300, without heeding public opinion. This is unimaginable in the U.S.

Furthermore, lawmakers failed to process (due to lack of a quorum) the important amendment to the Pharmaceutical Law that many people wanted, the passage of which would allow convenience stores to sell some non-prescription drugs such as aspirin, cold medicines and digestives.

The bill was nullified and the process should start again in the next session. They are just too busy looking out for their own interests.

Meanwhile, they made laws to pay a 1.2 million-won monthly pension to former members of the Assembly who are 60 or older, to pay themselves family allowances and child education expenses, and to increase their stipend by 5.1 percent, which pushed their annual wages over 100 million won.

The Korean economy is steadily moving forward, while politics is not just stalling but quickly going backwards. For example, the 16th National Assembly proposed 1,650 bills, the 17th proposed 5,730, and the 18th proposed an astounding 11,000 bills, nearly six times that of the 16th Assembly.

This only shows that the political scam of proposing bills for the sake of elections without any intention to follow through has become worse. The ratio of passed bills to proposed bills is really embarrassing. It was 15.6 percent in the 16th, 12.1 percent in the 17th and 5.4 percent in the 18th.

And 95 percent of the bills were proposed as PR stunts ― that is, in order for the members of the Assembly to put the names of bills on their congressional reports of legislative activities and get votes in the election.

Each person was nominated by his or her party to become a member of the Assembly through an election. In the U.S., the qualifications and leadership of a lawmaker are seriously questioned if the passage rate of the bills he proposed is this low.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the KimChangJoon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).

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