[OUTLOOK]End negative campaignsAs local elections draw near, incidents of bribes or special donations have been coming up in the process of nominations in almost all parties.
This degrades the meaning of local elections ― that is, to elect local leaders who work for the districts while having close relations with the local residents.
Some argue that the parties’ intervention in local elections should be totally eliminated or the nomination rights should be taken from city or provincial parties and given back to the central parties. These are not fundamental solutions, however.
As surveys have shown, most voters know little about the election candidates. The voters, therefore, will have difficulty choosing the right candidate if a party does not verify the candidate. This is why we need verification and data about the candidates from their parties. Otherwise, the incumbent leader who is most famous among the standing candidates is likely to win again. If a local assembly consists of independent members, different laws will be enacted under different circumstances. Individual members without connections among themselves will cooperate with different members on different issues. Thus, policies will lack consistency.
The parties have their unique roles and functions in local elections. In the early 20th century, most U.S. cities banned political parties’ intervention in local elections but later withdrew that policy for the above reason.
The parties’ nominations are an established fact and so are the city and provincial parties’ rights for nominations. We should admit this first, before we try to find a solution.
Corruption and the trouble that has occurred lately in the process of the party nominations were the result of the central parties’ neglect of their duties ― to supervise the process of primary elections. They have been concentrating on the local elections and therefore overheated the competition.
If a central party neglects its duties and fails to run primary elections in a fair manner, local autonomy will have no chance to develop and the party’s very existence will be shaky. The reasons are three-fold.
Firstly, in local elections we choose the leaders who will work for the local districts. This is not a presidential election or an Assembly election. Victories in the last three local elections did not lead to victories in the presidential elections. Clearly, local elections are not a bridgehead for the presidential election. The central parties, therefore, should restrain from too much intervention in the local elections.
Secondly, when a central party appoints or tries to appoint a specific candidate for a strategic district, there is no sufficient data to prove that the candidate is better qualified than other prospective candidates. The district's party members, representatives and residents should decide who is likely to win, not several senior members in a secret chamber. We should remember that this practice of making decisions in secret enables corruption, which then ruins a party’s image and decreases its competitiveness.
Citizens have a great interest in whether the central parties ensure their primary elections are conducted in a democratic fashion. If a party demonstrates its democratic procedure, it will be helpful to the party in the long term.
Thirdly, each party is now putting all its energy and efforts into the local elections. This is counter to the Manifesto movement, a campaign they designed to focus on policies and pledges in the local elections.
The central parties are running negative campaigns under such slogans as “Punish the central government for their wrongdoings,” and “Punish local governments monopolized by parochial regionalism.” The candidates’ policies have been put aside and the voters are unable to compare them.
Campaigns based on differentiated policies have faltered because of the central parties’ strategy of putting everything into the local elections. If this keeps up, negative campaigns will be commonplace, like in the last presidential election.
The central parties should not intervene so much but should instead carry out positive campaigns.
This is the only way to improve local autonomy and to cleanse each party from the stains of bribery and special donations.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University.
by Shim Ji-yeon