[EDITORIALS]A cold look at why to vote

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[EDITORIALS]A cold look at why to vote

The expected turnout for Thursday's nationwide local elections hovers in the 40 percent range. According to a survey conducted by the National Election Commission, those who said that they will certainly vote were 45 percent of those surveyed. If that prediction is correct, the country will see its lowest voter turnout in recent years; 68 percent of eligible voters turned out in 1995 and 53 percent went to the polls in 1998. Public apathy is overwhelming representative democracy.

Voter indifference largely stems from cynicism about politics and politicians. It is a cynicism tinged with wariness; no matter whom they vote for, people think, it will not make much difference. A fair share of unqualified candidates for local offices is another reason for not bothering to vote.

But there is a fallacy in this thinking. We need not resort to grandstanding rhetoric about a low turnout endangering grass roots politics, but think of the problem in money terms. For example, the annual budget of county administrations around the nation -- the smallest administrative unit in these local elections -- averages about 92 billion won ($74 million). The annual budget for six metropolitan cities, excluding Seoul, averages 2 trillion won. So not investing a few minutes in deciding who to pick for these powerful elective local offices is self-defeating. Election experts said that about 50 heads of local offices picked in 1998 have been prosecuted for bribery or other offenses. Rumors that this or that person used the power of an elective office for personal gain and diversions of local government budgets are abundant. We do not want to imagine just how much taxpayers' money has been wasted and how much dirt has been swept under rugs.

Elected local government officials who disappoint their constituencies and commit crimes should be dealt with under the law. But half the blame should fall on voters. By not exercising their right to vote or voting carelessly is a major renunciation of civic responsibility. Even if there were no best candidate to choose from, voters should look for the second-best or avoid choosing the worst candidate. Take a good look at the candidates and their track records before heading to the polling booths. Ultimately, the ramifications of wrong choices will fall on voters and will last for the next four years.

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