By Jay Kim
The presidential primary system of Korea is full of contradictions. It
would be desirable to adopt a U.S.-style open primary system. This means
we should hold primaries. If they are completely left to people’s votes
without any interference by political parties, complaints or criticisms
will disappear. Above all, unfortunate incidents like boycotting can be
avoided and the strange case of one party bringing in a new candidate
from the outside ― after selecting one through fierce internal
competition ― will not happen.
An open primary allows anyone to run freely regardless of the person’s
party affiliation but disallows anyone who does not participate in
primaries the right to run in the main election. A candidate, and its
party, with less than 10 percent (or 5 percent) of votes in the
primaries is naturally eliminated from the main election. Only in this
way, can candidates from all kinds of minor political parties be weeded
We do not have to rush open primaries. It can be implemented step by
step. For example, the first primary can take place in North and South
Gyeongsang Provinces. Then, after two weeks, the next one can be held in
North and South Jeolla Provinces. Proceeding in this order, the final
one can take place in Seoul. Then, a candidate and his or her party
would be selected by the result of these primaries to enter the main
election. It would take 12 weeks to finish this process. During the
three months of primaries, candidates would undergo serious scrutiny.
Then, the parties can become involved in the main election full scale to
be verified once again for their policies and candidates.
We should not rush to choose a president to be responsible for the fate
of our country without having at least five months, three months for
primaries and two months for the main election, of verification and
Any candidate who does not like this fierce verification process may
always drop out but may not sneak in after the primary process, since no
one may enter the main election without having been in the primaries.
The current primary system should be scrapped. Look at the behavior of
candidates of the Saenuri Party, a party with a great majority, such as
boycotting the primary because the rules were not changed to their
advantage, or threatening to boycott in the middle of a primary and
demanding the resignation of the chairman of the party. This kind of
behavior can only bring trouble. Fortunately, the good news is that they
changed their minds about participating in the primary, accepting the
conditional resignation of the party chairman.
The situation of the Democratic United Party, an opposition party, is
also frustrating. It is pitiful to watch the major opposition party that
followed pure liberalism in the past shifting abruptly to the left and
getting lost in chaos by uniting with leftist organizations that are
completely different in ideology. I heard that the party will run its
presidential primary as follows: Seven candidates will run in a national
election. As a result of the first round, two will be eliminated. Then,
three candidates will be eliminated after another stage, and a
candidate of the party will be selected in the next round. However,
after this, another primary between the selected candidate and an
external candidate will take place.
I have never heard of such a case in the U.S., where a party went
through the process of selecting a candidate and then felt so little
confidence that they would require the recruitment of an external
candidate. The Democratic United Party should unite to put more
concerted efforts toward raising the competitiveness of its candidates.
If they intend to bring in an external candidate who may fare better,
why do they waste time and tax money on making puppets out of the other
candidates who go through the judgment by the people? It really amazed
me to hear that such a process increases ‘box-office value.’
The fate of our country may depend on who will be the next president. In
this time of crisis, the presidential election should be really a
solemn and truthful process.
The presidential election is not show business.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the
Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s