[Viewpoint] Don’t discount local elections

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[Viewpoint] Don’t discount local elections

Dear readers, how has this year treated you? Do you have enough to be thankful for?

How wonderful it would be if we could all nod our heads in agreement that this has been a great year. But unfortunately, more people are likely to turn away and shake their heads in frustration when asked to look back on 2009.

We the press, who have the obligation to keep close watch on those in power, cannot shake off the guilty feeling of having not done enough. It may sound like an excuse, but the press cannot alone ensure that the powerful do their jobs properly through monitoring and critiquing.

The voters have a big role in all of this, too. I remember writing a similar column the same time a year ago calling on voters to keep tabs on politicians ahead of the next elections, reminding them to take into account what these officials did and didn’t do.

Little has improved this year on the political front. The opposition is staging a protest and holding next year’s budget hostage while the ruling party sits idly by. Our lives have gotten no better thanks to these people. We must keep that in mind. But when judgment day comes, our actions will come too late, kind of like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is important to recognize mistakes to avoid making them again the next time, but to prevent such mishaps beforehand would be more substantial.

You readers are in for another test next year. The gubernatorial elections are slated for June 2, and they’re a bit tricky. It’s similar in a way to the first equal elections implemented throughout the United States after the Civil War, when African American men were allowed to vote for the first time.

But Washington lawmakers were cunning and knew their way around the law. They did not want these “ignorant” folks to vote and determine their lives. So they set an electoral condition that disenfranchised those deemed to be ignorant about issues related to the American Constitution.

Along these lines, interviewers would ask a white male voter to name the American president yet ask a black man to elaborate on why the Constitution’s definition of the three main branches of government is based on the Montesquieu theory of balance of power. Obviously one of these voters was at a disadvantage.

Next year’s gubernatorial elections pose no less of a brain-teaser, as if made to scare voters away. You will not just vote on mayors and governors in the upcoming elections - you will also be voting for district council persons and proportional representation, district mayor, councilor for the district and proportional seat, educational superintendent and a member of the education board.

It’s enough to cause your head to spin. Many people probably don’t even know who these candidates could be replacing. Of course, there are also many people who don’t really care who gets what in local politics.

But it can have major impact on your life.

Noam Chomsky suggests that picking the right leader for a local community affects you more than the president or national legislators. Policies become more concentrated and personalized when authority is handed down to the lower organization level.

Additionally, grassroots democracy is best exercised and represented in local governments.

Your vote can build a grandiose city hall at the heart of your city or send your children to a school that allows free political rallies. Whatever it is, the choice is yours. But you must work to make the right decision. You still have five months to study.

First, look at the people occupying the seats now and determine if they are doing their jobs right. Then have a look at the political parties they are affiliated with. Education superintendents and board members are politically neutral in theory, but you nevertheless should check their preferences.

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet,” President Abraham Lincoln famously said. Indeed, voting without doing the research to make informed decisions can be dangerous.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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