[INSIGHT]Soccer and elections: an imbalance

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[INSIGHT]Soccer and elections: an imbalance

They say that we have shown how our society has matured through the staging of the World Cup.

We showed that we could still keep cool heads while cheering our lungs off, and we showed admirable consideration for the other countries' teams and their supporters in the audience. The level of discipline shown by the masses of soccer fans that gathered in downtown Seoul was especially amazing.

On Monday, hundreds of thousands of people stood in the downtown streets to root for the Korean team when it played against the United States, and not a single incident or accident was reported. After the game, the crowd cleaned up its own garbage and left the streets even cleaner than before the cheering and celebrating multitudes had swept through. Foreign visitors and media praised that discipline, and we felt as proud of our soccer fans as of our team.

But is discipline in soccer festivities the only requisite for social maturity? Hard as it may be for Koreans to believe these days, there is more to society than just the World Cup.

Many people agree that it is difficult to judge whether we have attained social maturity after looking at the local election campaigns. If we perform badly in our local elections while our showing in the World Cup is of a high standard, can we say that we are mature socially?

There is a weak subject even for a smart student who excels in almost all his studies. A student can be good at Korean and mathematics, but not at English. Another student can be good at almost all subjects except for art. Then are Koreans good at World Cups but bad at elections?

While it is understandable that the World Cup matches are more exciting than the local elections, this imbalance of public attention has gone too far. Although election day is around the corner, candidates are failing to attract people's attention. People are indifferent to elections.

With the worst-ever turnout of voters predicted, stacks of manila envelopes containing election information sent to voters are found unopened in the trash. You almost feel sorry for the candidates, who complain that no matter how hard they try, there is no way to get the voters' attention.

Theoretically, the success of the World Cup has nothing to do with the failure of the local elections and vice versa. There are ample chances for us to succeed in both of them.

But one cannot deny that there is some kind of a strange relation between the World Cup and the local elections in Korea this year.

In a sense, one cannot disagree with the general feeling that the politicians are getting what they deserve. Frustration, disappointment and a repeated sense of betrayal and anger toward the nation's politicians have cooled off any interest the public might have had in politics and elections. I understand the desperation and despair of voters who think that the candidates are more or less the same kind of politicians. But in retrospect, who elected those politicians? Who elected the president, National Assembly members, province governors and the city council members? In short, who gave permission for the political fiasco to overtake this country? If we are to ignore elections in disgust of our political failure, who will ever change this political situation? And as long as we live in this country, we will see this circle of irresponsibility repeat itself over and over ?if we don't do something about it.

People say that voters are always blameless politically. But it is always the voters who take the ultimate responsibility for our politics and later become helpless victims of evil politicians. It was the voters who elected these evil politicians in the first place.

Abandoning the local elections will bring disaster to none other than us, the people. What kind of local leaders will we get from elections where less than a quarter of the voters turn up? In fact, the low turnout can even lead to outright criminals getting voted in. Five out of the 16 heads of the city and province governments and 54 out of 232 heads of the smaller units of local governments voted in during the last election have been indicted on criminal charges during their terms.

The least we can do is make sure that we don't end up letting gangsters win places in public offices again. If they do, local administrations will continue to be embroiled in scandal.

Let the World Cup go on, but let us also make the elections happen as well. Let's show the passion, the discipline and the responsibility that we've shown in the World Cup in our elections as well.

We cannot call ourselves truly mature citizens of a democracy if we treat our own elections with indifference.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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