Election Campaign Reform

2013-05-06

Korea’s National Election Committee announced a series of election reform proposals, which include allowing candidates and campaign workers to conduct face-to-face or over-the-phone polls at all times except on Election Day. The nation’s election watchdog said the proposal will be discussed on May 8 and presented to the National Assembly by late June.

Campaign Reform Proposals

The most notable part of the National Election Committee’s proposals is allowing campaign activities all year long except on Election Day. The NEC said that candidates or nominees will be allowed to engage all year long in oral campaigning or over-the-phone surveys, provided that the callers explicitly say that the calls are for election campaign purposes. Also, political newcomers will have an easier time entering politics since candidate registration will be allowed any time of the year. In order to prevent the campaigning from getting out of hand, however, the NEC has restricted campaign workers from passing out candidates’ business cards or wearing sashes indicating their candidates.

“Lee Jung-hee Prevention Act”

The new proposals include the so-called “Lee Jung-hee Prevention Act,” which bars candidates with low support rates of 10% or below in opinion polls from entering a second TV debate. This gives the opportunity to only the two top contenders to take part in the third and final debate. The measure stems from criticism that the attention on the TV debates of the last presidential election were diverted by the involvement of the minor United Progressive Party’s Lee Jung-hee, when it was clear that the election was a two-way race between Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in. Some of the issues not included in the reform proposals, such as restricting presidential candidates from dropping out during campaigning and abolishing the public nomination system for local elections, will be further reviewed before being incorporated into the proposal. Banning presidential candidates from withdrawing in the middle of campaign was designed to prevent another controversy like the one that surrounded Lee Jung-hee, who pulled herself out of the race after receiving 2.7 billion won (nearly 2.5 million U.S. dollars) in campaign subsidy.

Other Reform Proposals

Other reform measures include extending the closing time for the advanced polling system from four in the afternoon to six in the evening. This measure was first introduced in the by-elections on April 24, 2012. Also, registration for out-of-district voting will be allowed on the internet. Korean citizens residing overseas can register to vote only once in order to be allowed to vote in all elections in the future, and they will be able to do so via the internet or by mail. The measures regarding overseas citizens are expected to boost turnout rates substantially. In addressing the double payment of government subsidies for candidates, the amount paid before the election will be subtracted from the sum paid to the party after the election. The current law prohibits publications and facilities aiming to influence elections from being distributed or erected 180 days before the election, but the revision limits it to the printouts and facilities directly related to campaign activities. Regulations on campaign methods will be relaxed as well. Rules will ease on the method, size, frequency, and content of campaign offices, campaign workers, PR materials, sashes, advertisements, TV speeches, phone calls, and business cards. The media will also be allowed to rate candidates on their campaign pledges or policies and rank them. The new reform proposals will also let candidates hold outdoor discussion-type sessions with their supporters, such as town hall meetings, or book concerts, to talk about their pledges if they file reports ahead of the events.

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