[OUTLOOK]Find the energy to vote todayHow can the atmosphere be this cold? The expression “elections are the festivals of democracy” sounds like an idealistic scholar’s empty slogan.
The owner of a market near my house says, “Who cares about the elections? My business has never been this bad.”
I wanted to say that local elections are the starting point to exercise our rights, but managed not to.
The next day, I went to a restaurant and the owner was even more upset.
“Sales have long been only half of our usual amount. I feel upset when I hear slogans from campaign cars,” the owner said.
I almost said that the elections were to elect heads of the local governments but decided not to.
Late last night, a cab driver said with determination, “I am not going to vote.” Perhaps his determined tone scared me so I did not dare to give him a lecture.
Average citizens have been exhausted after three years during which the government has tried to clean up Korean society, politics and the economy with new principles.
If times had been slightly better and regular citizens had made a little more money, the owner of the market would have tried to see the differences between candidates.
The owner of the restaurant would have tried to measure the seriousness of candidates by looking at their faces.
If the construction business had not hit rock bottom like this, cab drivers would have passengers at night and would use their instincts to select the right people to support.
However, these people have become tired of hearing politicians’ endless pledges and their justification of local elections.
The words “I am not going to vote” revealed the cab driver’s indifference to politics.
He added, “There is no hope of it getting better.” This means he has given up hope in politics, which is a more serious problem than simple indifference.
The morning of the fourth local elections has broken but citizens’ hearts are still dark.
Many people have said that they have lost hope.
“We feel the guilt of turning your tearful hope into desperation,” was written on a brochure of a governing party candidate.
Nobody has explained the reasons for this guilt but there are still many placards of candidates.
These are nothing but ugly and meaningless posters for disappointed citizens.
The public feels pain and loss because the government has stuck to its so-called sense of justice and managed the administration in a stern way without consideration for citizens’ livelihood.
Citizens have felt oppressed by the government’s harsh measures. It has been a long time since they were given warm consolation. That is why they want to confront the government.
“Do not kick coal ashes. / Have you ever / warmed someone’s heart even once?”
This is a poem titled “A Question for You” by the Korean poet Ahn Do-hyun.
Those in their 50s and 60s are like coal ashes that have been kicked randomly, while those in their 30s and 40s are like the coals that have burned halfway and could be put out at any moment.
This government has demanded endless patience for the sake of justice and affluence in the future, while talking and acting brutally.
Today, it might be punished for this with the lowest voter turnout in history or a total defeat to the opposition parties.
If the government promotes democracy while it fails to enrich its citizens’ life and to understand citizens’ feelings of emptiness, the citizens soon become cynical not only of such a government but also of democracy itself.
This is why the colorful placards hanging at every junction look even more confusing.
We are not only confused by an ill-conceived voting system, but we have just lost any motivation to distinguish between candidates.
As long as there are some citizens who raise their voices to support certain candidates, local autonomy can develop.
As long as citizens try hard not to make mistakes when voting for different candidates for different posts at the same time, local autonomy can develop.
However, when such a humble slogan as, “You must have been disappointed. I will bring back your hope,” does not touch anyone even slightly, there is a problem.
Is the day of local elections called a “beautiful day?”
Alright, we can take one step backwards and squeeze out the last of our energy.
We can do this for future politicians who wish to warm someone’s heart at least once.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.
by Song Ho-keun
More in Columns
An unjust society
International law is the answer
[20th Anniversary] New decade, new home
[20th Anniversary] First draft of Korea's history, day by day, over the past two decades
[20th Anniversary] A new form of globalism is on the rise