[Outlook]Campaigns worth watching

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[Outlook]Campaigns worth watching

In a democracy, the president’s role is vital in deciding the future of the country. That is why the more advanced a country is, the more developed the election procedures must be in order to prevent voters from making poor decisions. Politics is an organism that lives on elections. One can tell much about the nature and level of a country’s development by looking at the process of competition for authority. The 2004 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which was decided by a narrow margin of votes, was an example of how the constitutional spirit was upheld in real politics. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory over rival candidate Segolene Royal was a reaffirmation of France’s choice for reform.
It seems that some 70 to 80 percent of Korean voters have already made up their minds about which candidate is most suited to be president. The rest are either undecided or disinterested. However, what is important is that many of those who have already made up their minds could vote differently on election day depending on how things go between now and then. People seem to think everything is so uncertain these days, why decide my vote for an election on Dec. 19 now?
So what are some issues that could move votes in the 70 some days left before the election? Scholars the world over have tried to find out the elements that decide how people vote. In light of our political reality, it seems that there will be four major elements that could change voters’ minds in this year’s election.
The first element is region. Regionalism is one of the oldest and most chronic diseases that hold Korean politics back. It is an anachronistic chain that impedes healthy internal competition within political circles and hampers the progress of grassroots politics. Even today, should the parties decide to display their Yeongnam or Honam colors, there would be a substantial number of backward voters who would fall for it.
The second element is negative campaigning. Negative campaigns are the product of malicious mudslinging in place of an objective evaluation of politics. While they lack legitimacy, they are often used as an effective short-term weapon by candidates and will likely play a part in this year’s election as well.
The third element is symbolic but empty promises. These promises are often accompanied by a series of incidents aiming to create a hostile atmosphere toward the opposite side. Contentious slogans attacking the incumbent government and urging the public to vote for change or the classical North-South reconciliation events just before the election to appeal to voters’ sentiments are examples. Ploys to attack the opposite candidate’s campaign policies, insubstantial slogans for peace or visits to Pyongyang can all be put in this category.
The fourth element is substantial campaign promises. These are systemized policies that give voters an idea of how the country would change in the next five years if they vote for a certain candidate.
These four elements are listed in the order of how much they contribute to the progress of democracy, with the fourth element being the most important contributor. Until now, our politics have come a long way quickly. Our elections are very different from those in the United States, yet we have seen candidates from time to time who have tried to campaign on policy promises. The U.S. presidential election, which is still more than a year away, is already starting to heat up with a debate over a national health insurance policy and the U.S. policy on the Middle East, including the war in Iraq. Recently, the presidential race has become even more interesting with the allegations that the personal assistant to Hillary Clinton’s husband was involved in corruption charges with an Italian real estate developer.
A note worth mentioning is U.S. newspapers’ mature attitude toward this scandal. During the French presidential campaign public welfare and national reform were the main issues in the media.
It is now up to voters.
The four elements mentioned above will vie with one another to capture the public’s interest. Should the fourth element dominate, it will be a step forward for Korean politics.
On the other hand, should the other three elements get the most attention, our politics will regress. The progressives of our country must not make our politics go backwards. Our left-wing politicians must now act maturely.
Since the Uri Party, which was the foundation of the Roh administration, has closed its doors and announced its own political failure, we trust that it will not repeat the shallow, base tactics it used in previous elections. Voters want an election that will truly show them the way this country could change in the next five years.

*The writer is a professor of public policy at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Dal-gon
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