Primary turnout shamefulThe voting rate in the ruling party primary was shockingly low. The New Democratic Party gained just 22.6 percent at their home base of Gwangju and the Jeonnam areas. In Busan and Gyeong-nam, it was below 20 percent; in Ulsan, Jeju, Gangwon and Chungbuk, it was 19.8 percent. The Democratic Party had it worse, since it received a 9.1 percent voting rate in Incheon and 7.8 percent in Jeonbuk where it arguably holds strong party influence.
This is by no means normal. The party primary that selects a presidential candidate is the most significant and dramatic event for a party. Party members and the general public should be excited, but the reality is cold. Regardless of how much support the coalition of the ruling parties receives from citizens, this chilling indifference to the primary poses a critical threat to party politics. This year’s presidential election should make us focus on a comprehensive analysis of party membership and the primary system.
The biggest problem lies in the registered electoral college. In order to advertise their primaries as a “national” primary supported by the entire nation, parties expand the electoral college to hundreds of thousands or a million people, and primary candidates register anyone they can urge to join the electoral college. Understandably, these involuntary voters have no strong reason to go to the polls, which are inconveniently located. People are not excited to vote for primary candidates who don’t receive much attention from the public.
Party members are also problematic. Although hundreds of thousands of Democratic Party members all hold voting rights, the total voting rate did not reach 10 percent. They call themselves a Democratic Party with 50 years of tradition, but their tradition seems to show surprisingly little loyalty to the party. Because the voting rate is low, each party faces controversy over mobilizing voters and the legitimacy of the elected candidate. The parties argue that even though the voting rate is low, the number of votes has increased compared to five years ago because the size of the Electoral College is huge. Then why can’t they find an honest and mature solution to the problem? If they reduce their desire for the title of the national primary and focus instead on nurturing their core, the parties will gain more votes and increase the voting rate.