[NOTEBOOK]Elections, crises, bankruptcy

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[NOTEBOOK]Elections, crises, bankruptcy

The year 2002 will be very important - unprecedented, perhaps - for professional election campaigners. Local government elections are scheduled nationwide on June 13 to select 16 provincial governors and metropolitan city mayors, 232 other mayors and heads of county and city district offices, 690 council members for the seven metropolitan cities and the nine provinces and 3,490 council members of smaller cities and administrative districts. The number of candidates is estimated at 13,000, with about three contenders for every office. If every candidate spends 100 million won ($76,000), 1.3 trillion won will be spent on campaigning. And 100 million won per candidate is a very conservative estimate. Professional campaigners might be spending sleepless nights planning how to make their fortune.

Yet these elections are only preludes to the main political drama at the end of next year. On Dec. 19 comes the 16th presidential election. Senior legislators of the opposition Grand National Party are still licking their wounds from their election loss five years ago, and have vowed, "If we lose the coming presidential election, we will quit politics." The legislators said they and their relatives as well as the heads of regional party offices were thoroughly investigated by the tax service after their party's election defeat. "We are tired of being an opposition party," they say. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party is also desperate. "If Lee Hoi-chang becomes the next president, everyone from the Jeolla provinces will have to emigrate," many of the ruling party lawmakers say openly. They think it is unfair to have to relinquish power, which they longed for for many years, after only one five-year term.

The presidential election is not just a politicians' affair. The results affect government positions, heads of state-owned companies and even private companies. It is a war, and enormous amounts of money will be spent. Professional campaign managers see visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads - cash, government positions, influence.

There will also be party elections and by-elections to fill Assembly seats to be vacated by court rulings. There are the Asian Games and the World Cup. The entire year is jammed with elections and festivities.

Could reckless election spending trigger another financial crisis? Will the country function, or will election fever freeze all government decision-making? Above all, there still are many candidates who think they can bribe voters or win election by stirring up regional antagonisms. Some voters openly ask for cash from candidates.

How can we stop those practices? We can expect nothing from opportunistic politicians who are busy looking for connections and from the police and the prosecutors who do not seem to know what the word "neutral" means. The toothless National Election Commission does not seem to be able to keep elections clean. Civic groups have also lost some credibility. Let's hope that next year is not filled with crisis and bankruptcy.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon

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