(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 25)

Candidate selection in peril Conflicts of interest, dubious standards taint integrity of nominations The backlash by disgruntled politicians against a selection committee is a common occurrence preceding nearly every election, and the April 10 National Assembly elections are no different. As with any competition, there are winners and losers, leaving those who didn't make the cut feeling dissatisfied. The issue arises from the decades-old tradition of nominating candidates based on criteria that have been characterized as vague and unjust, posing a significant threat to democracy. The repercussions of these candidate selections, particularly within the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), are so severe that analysts suggest it's only a matter of time before the party experiences further setbacks, potentially leading to a division. The list of the so-called bottom 20 percent lawmakers has caused a stir. The DPK selection committee evaluated the performance of its current lawmakers over the pas t four years, identifying individuals deemed to have delivered substandard performances. Those on this list face bleak prospects of becoming candidates for the DPK, as they risk having 20 to 30 percent of their total votes in the internal competition deducted as a consequence. Rep. Sul Hoon, who was included on the list, was outraged. He alleged that the selection committee is using the evaluation as a tool to eliminate lawmakers who were critical of DPK leader Lee Jae-myung. He described this as political retaliation and called on the chairman to resign, asserting that Lee is unfit to lead the party due to his legal troubles. Before Rep. Sul, numerous other lawmakers from the bottom 20 percent accused Lee of exercising his influence behind the selections, claiming they were victimized because they had criticized him. Lee Su-jin, a former judge turned lawmaker, exited the party amidst this turmoil. Some lawmakers appealed to the committee, urging its members to reconsider the evaluations, only to hear that t heir requests were ignored. Lee Nak-yon, the former prime minister who founded a minor party, predicted on a MBC radio talk show, Friday, that an exodus of lawmakers from the DPK would be inevitable. He said Lee's greed will pay the price. "We will see how it turns out," he said. The ruling People Power Party (PPP) is also grappling with the repercussions of the nominations as selections are still in progress. Insiders suggest that a proxy conflict is unfolding between Rep. Jang Dong-hyeok and Lee Chul-gyu, two prominent members of the selection committee. Rep. Jang is a confidant of PPP interim leader Han Dong-hoon, while Rep. Lee enjoys a strong relationship with President Yoon Suk Yeol, being recognized as someone who has the president's trust and attention. The two were pitted against each other, and tensions erupted recently during the selection committee's review of candidates for the PPP's representative in Busan's Sasang electoral district. The seat has been vacant since last year when current lawm aker Rep. Chang Je-won declared he would not seek reelection. Rep. Chang, previously viewed as a close confidant of the president, recommended an associate identified only by the surname Kim as his successor. Rep. Lee reportedly supported Kim, but Rep. Jang opposed and tried to give another candidate a chance to run in the election. The two lawmakers clashed. After arguments, the PPP's selection committee decided to let the two compete to become the party's candidate. This also triggered speculation that Reps. Lee and Jang were backing the candidates in a proxy war on behalf of the president and the PPP leader. In addition to internal conflicts and power struggles, another significant issue undermining the transparency of the selection process is a conflict of interest. Rep. Lee, for instance, represents an electoral district in Gangwon Province. Last week, despite being chosen by the ruling party's selection committee as a candidate for the PPP, he opted to participate in the competition alongside other PP P candidates to alleviate any potential concerns about the fairness of the selection process. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that he serves as a judge on the selection committee, while simultaneously being a contestant vying for selection. This situation, where a contestant also holds a position as a judge in the candidate selection process, appears inherently contradictory. The self-serving manipulation of internal selections by party leaders represents a critical issue that erodes democracy. These leaders view the selection process merely as a tool to advance their own political agendas and ambitions, rather than as a mechanism to genuinely serve democratic principles. Presidential hopefuls are tempted to dominate the selections and nominate candidates who are close to them or pledge allegiance to them. Chosen candidates not only represent their parties in the elections but are also given the rights to cast their votes to elect their party leaders and presidential candidates. The misuse of selec tions by ambitious politicians brings into question the principle of representation. Instead of prioritizing the interests of their constituencies, these lawmakers appear to prioritize the agendas of their party leaders, undermining the fundamental role of lawmakers, which is to represent and serve the needs of their constituents, not merely those of their party leaders. All told, political leaders -- Yoon, Han, and Lee alike -- cannot deflect criticism for having attempted to use the selection process as a tool to strengthen their influence in the party. They should focus more on securing fairness and transparency in the candidate selection. Candidate selection should not be a stage for hegemonic competition. Voters are closely watching all the processes, and any selfish and undue practice involved in nominating candidates will lead to consequences. Source: Yonhap News Agency