Analysis of the 20th National Assembly Election
The elections for the 20th National Assembly was held on April 13, 2016. Contrary to popular expectation, the ruling Saenuri Party did not achieve their landslide victory. I interviewed Justice party candidate Jeong Jae-min (Chair of the Justice Party’s Yeongdeungpo District Committee) about the election results.
In the April 13th election, the Together Democracy Party won 123 seats, the Saenuri Party won 122 seats, the People’s Party won 38 seats. What was the reason for these results? How will these results impact the 20th National Assembly? the 2017 presidential election? When the opposition party split just ahead of the election, many expected a landslide victory for the ruling Saenuri Party. This didn’t happen. In fact, the people passed judgement on the Park Administration and the Saenuri Party: the ruling party lost their majority in the National Assembly. Nonetheless, I don’t view this as an absolute victory for the opposition party. While the Together Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, won the most number of seats, the people also passed judgement on them. That’s because their party vote was lower than those of the People’s Party. People had voted for Together Democratic Party candidates in order to vote against Saenuri Party candidates, but when it came time to cast their party vote, they voted higher for the People’s Party: The Together Democratic Party had not properly played its role as an opposition party during the past 8 years under the Lee Myung Bak and Park Geun Hye Administration. As regards the Justice Party, our ability to fulfill our role as an opposition party is still insufficient.
Given the three party split, I think we will have a very dynamic National Assembly. Before, the agenda was set and decided by the two main parties; now, as the People’s Party becomes an important casting vote bloc, bills will only be passed by considering the positions of the three parties. This means there’s going to be a lot of push and pull among the parties. When the three parties reach an impasse, it will be progressive parties such as the Justice Party that will cast the deciding vote.
This will impact the 2017 presidential election because no one party alone will be able to form a government. To address the causes of their defeat, the Saenuri Party is going to do some soul searching. The three parties won’t have a choice but to figure out a way to work with each other.
During the elections, because the mainstream media focused on the large political parties, it was difficult to find news about the smaller political parties unless one went looking for it. In this way, the political landscape in Korea is unfavorable towards the smaller parties. What structures create such unfavorable conditions? What is the impact of this? During their administrations, the Lee and Park administrations dominated the media by seizing the Korea Communications Commission, the public broadcasts, and programming. By controlling the media, they created the conditions by which to shape public opinion to benefit the privileged. For example, during this election, only three parties (parliamentary negotiation bodies) were featured in the news, and the smaller parties were excluded. In my case, there were four candidates for the Yeongdeungpo District area, but the media made it appear as if there were only three. We had to constantly request that this reporting be corrected.
Because the political landscape is so unfavorable to the smaller parties, even if these parties have fresh ideas and candidates, the public does not know about them. This is reflected in public opinion polls which again shape public opinion.
In order to reflect the popular will, dismantle the political monopoly, and reflect diverse voices in the National Assembly, one of your campaign promises was to reform the political system to provide a larger number of proportional representative seats based on people’s political party vote. Can you explain the need for this reform? For the National Assembly politics to run properly, it should be like a microcosm of the country. If the National Assembly is to be a political organ that can mediate the popular will, then it should reflect the diverse ideas of the people. For example, a larger number of seats in the national assembly should be proportional representatives based on voter’s political party vote, but our system currently is predominantly a direct candidate system where the winner takes all. Before 2004, when the proportional representative system was established, only the person with the most votes was elected; votes for the losing candidate became dead votes. We must change this system that does not properly reflect people’s will. My vote should matter as much as your vote. In other words, people shouldn’t have to worry that they are throwing away their vote when they vote for a small party. They should be able to vote for the candidate and party that they want. In the case of Germany, it has a mixed-member proportional representation system where 50% of MPs are elected directly and 50% are elected through a party vote
In this National Assembly election, you were able to directly talk with voters. Your election campaign was run different from the larger parties. What was the difference? After this process, what do you think is the task and hope of Korean politics? Compared to the large parties, our campaign budget or personnel was lacking. The greatest difference is that we ran a campaign where we tried to build concrete relationships with each person that we met. We went out to engage with people in the community and to get their contacts. We plan to organize spaces where we can meet and work with them.
Because of its distortions, the electoral system focuses its attention on the two large parties. We need to change this electoral system and the media environment. Despite the unfavorable conditions, we are not giving up and are putting all our efforts to meet as many people as possible. We might not be able to win elections now, but we are planting the seeds of hope and witnessing the possibility of change.
What do you think is the role of progressive parties in Korean politics? What is the role of the people in establishing a mature democracy? The purpose of progressive parties is to watch and check power. We need to cultivate this ability. Despite the desolate and barren political landscape, progressive parties should become the tribunes for the people’s well-being so that the large parties represent the lives of workers, the disadvantaged, and citizens.
People should have interest in politics and participate. Politicians don’t represent non-voters. People should express their will by participating. That’s why the role and direction of political parties is important. The most active way to participate for a mature democracy is to join a party and participate in its activities by directly linking it to their lives. Finally, we need conscious organized power. This does not have to be a political party. There has to be an organized and conscious power that can communicate with political parties. For those that can’t or don’t want to join a political party, there should be an organized power where they can change and contribute to their communities. It will be the progressive political party and this conscious organized power that can guard democracy.
by Jeong-eun Hwang (General Secretary, ISC)