Better election behaviorThe National Election Commission recently announced that advertisements, rallies and signature campaigns by the government, political parties and civic groups are against election law. It said that campaigns using the Internet, press releases and press conferences are permissible but that aggressive campaigns can affect election results. The commission has been blocking signature campaigns by environmental groups against the Lee Myung-bak administration’s efforts to develop the four major rivers restoration project and called on the administration to shut down its promotion booths until the local elections on June 2 are over. The administration seems poised to accept the commission’s demand, but some civic groups are resisting on the grounds that such a restriction is an obvious infringement on the freedom of expression.
An election should be a furnace where the issues can flare and melt in a harmonious fashion. The spirit of an election is embodied in the free expression of consent or opposition. Therefore, arguments about the four rivers restoration project should be promoted rather than discouraged. However, if individuals or groups go beyond a simple expression of their will and conduct explicit campaign activities by pushing the public to the pros and cons of contentious issues, their activities should be restricted accordingly. For example, if someone says, “The four rivers project is a bad concept, so do not vote for the candidates from that party,” that would violate election law.
The National Election Commission now argues that it also restricted such behaviour regarding the impeachment of former President Roh Moo-hyun, the private schools law and President Lee’s election pledge to build a grand canal. But the commission’s stiff approach produced a great deal of controversy at that time, too. In the 2002 presidential election, civic groups were actively engaged in the campaign for or against Roh’s pledge to build an administrative capital away from Seoul. Now, a point of contention could arise from the suspicion that the Cheonan incident will be exploited for political gain among the members of the conservative camp. If so, will the commission interpret rallies or signature campaigns related to the incident as being against the law? The commission should approach those issues in a fresh way by examining the past and trying new methods that are relevant to the current circumstances. We hope the organization will interpret the election law in a way befitting the genuine purpose of the election and fix the holes in the law. The government, political parties and civic groups should also try to confine their actions to the realm of a simple expression of their will rather than using it as a campaign tactic.