The need for citizens to learn early the value of keeping public promises.Cho Gyeong-hui, a 10th grade teacher at Tongjin High School in Gimpo, western Seoul, made an oath in front of her class recently. Her promise: She will write a friendly letter to everyone in her class before the end of the year.
In return, each of her students stood before the class and made their own promise. Some said they would try to mix with more people during lunchtime. Others talked about more personal matters, such as how they were going to approach family problems or how they would improve their grades. Each wrote an oath on a sheet of paper, folded it in half and sealed it with a thumbmark, then dropped it into a “pledge chest.”
This small ritual in Cho’s class was part of the program that the Korea Manifesto Center, a civic group that advocates the manifesto movement in elections, is recommending to school teachers. The point of the exercise is for each student to share a personal promise, announcing it in detail and seeing if they can keep it. It can help students learn the importance of keeping promises. This is the basic idea behind a movement to get politicians to stand by their election campaign pledges instead of brewing regional antagonism and mudslinging that have long characterized election campaigns.
“I heard that the mother of one of the students cried when she received a text message from her son, who’s got a sharp tongue, that he loved her very much,” Cho said. The boy had made a pledge to send a text message to his mother. This kind of result is exactly what the Korea Manifesto Center was hoping for.
With less than a month until the presidential election on Dec. 19, the manifesto center members are busy promoting the idea that people should listen to election pledges and scrutinize them to see if they are measurable and credible.
The National Election Commission advises voters to ask a few questions they hear an election promise. Their guidelines include: Do they give a clear reason why they are making such a pledge by using detailed data? Is it important enough to involve your town or the country? Does it tell how money will be raised to fulfill the promise? Does it abide by current laws? Is it technically feasible? Does the politician say when he will be able to carry out the pledge?
The idea of a manifesto movement was started in 1834 by a British statesman, Sir Robert Peel, who thought voters were easily taken in by the exaggerated promises of politicians. He suggested that a politician’s manifesto should be detailed and plausible. More than a century later, Tony Blair stressed the importance of manifesto-based elections when he became prime minister of Britain in 1997. The manifesto movement is particularly developed in countries that have adopted a parliamentary government, such as the United Kingdom or Japan.
In Japan, a similar campaign was led in 2003 by Masayasu Kitagawa, a former governor of Mie Prefecture and now head of the Manifesto Institute at Waseda University.
He introduced the “manifesto movement,” a term that caught on in Korea after the JoongAng Ilbo, together with civic groups, introduced the idea for the May 31 general elections last year. Because it was led by a civic movement, there is a slight difference in how Korea adopted the manifesto movement.
In other countries, political parties focus on the manifesto movement as a way to win elections. In Korea, civic groups stress the idea of using it more as an advocacy tool to teach the public to monitor whether and how politicians carry out their election pledges.
“For a pledge from a politician to be realized, it needs a budget,” said Lee Gwang-jae, secretary general of the Korea Manifesto Center.
“That budget is from people’s taxes, so we should review their pledges as meticulously as we review our tax bills.”
Seo In-deok, head of the policy team at the National Election Commission, says the idea of election by manifesto has become popular among the public.
“Now people are regarding election manifestos as a matter of promises that need to be kept,” Seo said. “More people realize that it’s simple but important, like keeping a promise that you will improve your grades when you asked your parents for an allowance when you were young.”
Kim Jun-u, head of student government at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said he benefited from a manifesto-based campaign when he ran for his post. In his campaign pamphlet, he included detailed plans and budget lines showing how he was going to accomplish his pledge.
Instead of a hazy promise of “a better school life,” he said he would make sure that hot water is available even during the day in the dormitories, an important issue considering that more than 5,000 students reside in dorms.
He persuaded the school and made it happen this year.
By Jang Wook JoongAng Ilbo/ Lee Min-a Staff Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]