[EDITORIALS]Turnout a signal of trouble

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[EDITORIALS]Turnout a signal of trouble

Turnout in Thursday's local elections was low despite get-out-the-vote efforts. The voter turnout (46.4 percent as of 6 p.m.), the lowest ever recorded in a nationwide election, was a fait accompli made public in advance. While the public lost faith in politics long ago, opinion leaders have dwelled on December's presidential election. Local elections received scant attention.

Attracting the attention of young voters who are at the heights of the World Cup fever was even more difficult. Under such a difficult situation the National Election Commission's appeal, "Let's Watch the World Cup After Casting Our Votes" proved not to be so effective. Voter turnout did not cross the psychologically important 50 percent mark.

The outcome proves how solid the people's indifference toward politics has become. The low turnout confirms that the grass-roots democracy, which was sprouted by local elections in the past, is confronted with a serious challenge.

A fundamental question, "Why should we practice the system of local autonomy?" is being asked by many people. Apart from the victories and defeats in this election, its aftermath will bring a lot of problems and unanswered questions.

First of all, the framework of local autonomy should be re-examined and intensive public debate on the system's problems should be carried out. In a situation where it is difficult to distinguish candidates for the different levels of local government positions, people are asked to elect provincial governors or city mayors and heads of local governments on different levels and in three different categories of local council members.

Even more disturbing and burdensome is casting ballots under the complicated procedure when people know that the local autonomy has been ruined by disorderly land development, corruption and arrests of local government heads. In such an atmosphere, public opinion favors the idea of smaller local councils, which would function better if merged with councils representing wider administrative units, or the number of councils should be curtailed.

In the era of information technology, resources are wasted by local administrations, local politics and overlapping manpower by the division of local governments.

When turnout falls and voters do not select qualified candidates, the possibility of under-qualified and incompetent candidates being elected grows. The represented views of the public can be distorted. We must strengthen provisions that prevent underqualified local government heads from violating democratic norms.

In the past four years, five governors or mayors and 46 other local government heads were indicted. This is a strong incentive to strengthen election laws. One remedy would be granting voters power to recall local heads. If a local head misuses the budget, fails to implement important policies, monopolizes personnel appointments and is found guilty of corruption, he can be dismissed even during his term of office through a public referendum. Since many candidates pledged to introduce this system during their campaign, reflecting the majority of voters' demands, its introduction should be considered seriously.

Another urgent task is improving people's recognition of the importance of local autonomy. The president and national assemblymen have less influence over people's lives than local council members and local government heads. But people still shun local elections. Under such political circumstances, it is difficult to expect improvements in the local situation, and local autonomy cannot develop in such soil.

The results of elections are the reflections of the people's will. The opposition Grand National Party, which demanded, "Justice to a Corrupt Regime," and the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, which emphasized "Eradication of Old-style Politics," should accept people's judgement.

They should not try to distort the election results to their needs for the presidential election. Low voter turnout means that the voters will not give their attention to local autonomy as long as political parties do not reform and make big improvements in the local autonomous government system. Political leaders should lead the movement to reform local autonomy and upgrade local politics.
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