Issue

[Issue] April 2015 / Vol 3. No. 1 – CCEJ Opinion


            Considering an increase in the number of law makers,
in light of political reforms.


Ko,
Kye-hyun

Secretary
General

 

According to election reform proposals put
forward by the National Election Commission in Korea, the total number of
lawmakers being the same as it is now, with 300 members in the Assembly, the
commission has suggested that the number of local lawmakers be cut down to 200
from 246, and that of proportional representation increase from 54 to 100. The
commission also introduced a six-sectional proportional representation system
where seats for lawmakers are distributed in accordance with the results of
voting for political parties. This way, it will by design, exterminate negative
influences caused by the current political system whereby prevailing local
sentiment wields the most influence in Korea. It will also improve the
political system by lowering the threshold of entry into the National Assembly
for such aspiring politicians as experts and heads of civil organizations. Several
civic groups and academic communities have called for the strengthening of the
proportional representation system, saying there ought to be at least 100 seats
available for the system and for the advancement of less familiar political
aspirants into the nation’s legislature. The commission’s proposals are
believed to be making some headway.

However, members of the media and those in
the academic community have doubted that the reforms will actually be
completed. It is almost impossible to think that sitting lawmakers would give
up their privilege and accept the fact that as many as 46 seats should be cut.
In cases where one district could be removed or merged with a neighboring
district, constituents in rural areas with lower population might reject such a
system. It’s also doubtful that enough public support for the measure could be
formed. Faced with these practical issues that hold back reforms, the academic
community, which has long studied the election system, has come up with the
idea that there should be an increase in the number of lawmakers from the
current 300 to 350 in order to introduce a proportional representation
system.
 

This opinion is generally thought to be
consistent with overall political reform. They have claimed that a lack of
efficiency and productivity in the assembly is not only attributable to the 300
current lawmakers. The National Assembly as an institution has damaged itself
as a body capable of representing the public. Due to the existing block that
prevents otherwise qualified candidates from entering the legislature, many
just give up and ultimately become a rubberstamp to whatever decisions their
party leaders make. These political reforms aim to establish a way for
candidates with sound ethics and of strong potential to have their voice in the
assembly. In order to reflect the current state of our society with various
generational and regional differences, the diversification of the assembly is
also required. Additionally, under the one-chamber system in Korea, where local
representation and population ratios are equal, the current number of lawmakers
is believed to be insufficient.

CCEJ Opinion.jpg


In Japan, its congress contains 480
members in the House of Representatives and is based on the population. Four
members are allotted for each province, regardless of population size. And 242
members comprise the Upper House of Representatives and are allotted based on
population. In total, 772 members are in both chambers in Japan.
 

In the U.S., one representative has
approximately 58,000 constituents, where in Japan, there are 17,000
constituents to one representative. Compared to the difference between Japanese
(1:17k) and American (1:58k) representation systems, there is little comparison
between the Japanese and Korean (1:160k) representation systems. It is a
misconception that the number of lawmakers per constituent in Korea outnumbers
that in the US and Japan. Data from the OECD also indicates that Korea does not
have an insufficient number of lawmakers in the least. 

 

  • Population
    in Korea—48 million

Number of
lawmakers – 300

Number of
lawmakers per capita – 160,000


  • Population
    in France—62 million

Number of lawmakers – 920

Number of lawmakers per capita – 70,000


  • Population
    in Italy—60 million

Number of lawmakers – 945

Number of lawmakers per capita – 93,000

 

  • Population
    in Germany—80 million

Number of lawmakers – 691

Number of lawmakers per capita – 110,000

 

  • Population
    in Spain—48 million

Number of lawmakers – 616

Number of lawmakers per capita – 80,000

 

With the number of lawmakers mentioned
above, combined with both chambers, Korea is one of the nations with the fewest
lawmakers. It leads to the conclusion that compared to developed states with
similar land size, Korea does not yet have enough lawmakers. It has been
claimed that the course Korea takes toward political reforms lies in the rise
of the total number of lawmakers. It has been argued that a decline in the
number of lawmakers would have an adverse influence on political reform in
Korea.

Decreasing the number of lawmakers could
actually inhibit political aspirants from entering the National Assembly, and
expose the existing lawmakers to increased pressure from lobbyists or money.
With a total number of lawmakers of 200, it would be easier for big businesses
to exercise their influence on lawmakers, meaning that their influence on the
assembly would be enormous as well.

It seems that increasing the number of
lawmakers is desirable in terms of reform-minded individuals. However, it is
doubtful that public opinion is favorable to the reforms due to the staggering
distrust of current politicians that prevails in Korea. Therefore, another
suggestion is to diminish the amount of finances available to and budgeted for
the assembly. Then, it may be feasible to increase the number of lawmakers, in
proportion to the reduction of expenses. It is worth trying it first without
any cost involved. It seems that the degree to which the public is convinced of
its usefulness is key to long term successful reform.