A new kind of campaignThe National Election Commission sponsored a public debate yesterday on electoral manifestos ahead of the gubernatorial elections slated for June 2. This sort of campaigning can invigorate an election, allowing parties and candidates to present the public with funding means, strategic direction, party platforms and priorities as well as their planned political activities upon winning. The declaration can serve as a checklist for voters to evaluate how well the election winners have followed up on their campaign promises.
Yet the tight campaign schedule makes it hard for political parties to name their candidates by set deadlines, let alone pen a well-thought-out manifesto. During the general elections in 2008, the Grand National Party, weary after tug of war between rivaling internal factions, was able to finalize its candidate list only six days prior to the deadline for registration.
Smaller parties did no better. The Liberty Forward Party finalized its candidate list a day after the GNP, and the Democratic Party the following day.
For the upcoming elections, parties should finalize their candidate list by April 2, or 60 days prior to election day, Yoo Moon-jong, secretary general of the Korea Manifesto Center, said during the debate. Voters should have at least two months to study and compare the manifestos of the candidates and their parties.
Professor Kim Wook of Pai Chai University also opined that parties squandered too much time selecting their candidates during the last presidential race. Candidates running against the front-runner Lee Myung-bak were behind the curve, focusing on negative campaigning rather their own principles and policies.
Speakers suggested that potential candidates should put forward manifestos before the preliminary registration so parties could use these in the selection process. Some aspirants are already releasing half-baked campaign promises such as free school lunches, new roadwork and construction of universities and banks. The manifesto campaign group has published its own standards to sift out unrealistic campaign promises during the campaign period.
Voters must also devote scrupulous attention to candidates’ morality and character, especially after recent elections. Among 230 governors and mayors who won office during the last elections, 94, or 41 percent, have been arrested in connection with bribery and corruption charges.
Parties and candidates may not be able to accept all of the NEC’s suggestions. But if they want to join forces to remake the gubernatorial elections, they should heed this guidance. Doing so could be an effective shortcut toward appealing to voters.