[Viewpoint]Voter distrust high, interest lowThe April 29 by-election is just around the corner. And, so far at least, the campaigns are markedly different than in the past.
A by-election usually serves as a mid-term evaluation of the administration and the governing party. The number of open seats, however, is usually minimal, and so are the fireworks.
But the campaigns this year resemble fights between family members, and the political parties are overheating.
The problem: It seems as though voters couldn’t care less, as there’s little interest in the election yet.
The exception is the Bupyeong-Eul electoral district, where economic issues are taking center stage.
But pay attention to the contrast here.
The general voter population isn’t as interested in politics this time around, while those in Bupyeong-Eul ? where the issues at hand affect everyday lives ? are becoming more engaged.
There are several factors at work here.
The main issues in this election do not necessarily touch people’s livelihoods.
Rather, they boil down to power struggles within and among the rival parties. That’s done little to entice voters to care.
The lack of interest in the by-elections also stems from a distrust in politics.
Low voter turnout rates and a growing number of people who aren’t affiliated with any political party underscore this trend. In last year’s general election, the turnout rate was a mere 46 percent, and, according to a survey in March of this year, nearly half of the respondents were not affiliated with any party.
There are other reasons why we’ve shifted in this direction, and the biggest might be that the political parties and the National Assembly have not fulfilled their duties.
Activists also did not rely on representative politics through the political parties and the National Assembly. Instead, they took to the streets.
And there’s a growing gap between the political community and the economic and civic communities.
In economic and civic society, global standards have become commonplace.
The political community, on the other hand, clings to practices of old, like the tendency to engage in physical fights. It also rushes bills ahead, stifling the legislative process.
So, as this has played out, some people have become disinterested in politics, while others have become more active in the social movement.
Some have even moved in both directions at the same time, shifting away from politics and toward the social movement.
In general, our society is highly interested in politics. There actually are few societies where interest in politics is higher than in Korea.
But people want to keep their distance from it at the same time, presenting an interesting challenge.
Such a huge contradiction led to both love and hatred for so-called “Yeouido politics,” named after the area where the National Assembly is located. In textbook terms, Yeouido politics represents a model of high cost and low efficiency.
In other words, the decision-making process is slow and the legislative process is sometimes, well, violent. Scandals are commonplace when there’s a change in administration.
In the political field, a host of agreements must be negotiated, so the process is bound to be slow. Rational thinking is a key part of the process, though people sometimes depend on insights and resolutions that seem irrational.
To re-engage voters, our politics must evolve.
Without taking this vital step, we will not be able to overcome the economic crisis, establish efficient governance or continue to develop into an advanced nation.
This isn’t to say that politicians should carry all the responsibility. Evolution will require more than that.
A majority of voters ? the people participating in the decision-making process ? must participate in elections. Only then will we get the political change we desire and need.
That’s a tough challenge in a climate of distrust and disinterest. But we owe it to ourselves to participate.
We might not be interested in politics, but politics is always interested in us, even if you don’t see it all the time.
The political process sets the framework for the decisions and processes that define and influence us as humans.
That is why we all should be interested in the upcoming by-election, even if we don’t necessarily see a direct correlation to our daily lives.
*The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Ho-ki
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?