[Viewpoint] The voters awake

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[Viewpoint] The voters awake

To sum up the outcome of recent by-elections: the voters came out as the real victors. Bundang, a middle-class residential area adjacent to the capital, was known in the past as an area that consistently backed the conservative ruling party. The Grand National Party regarded residents of Bundang as “one of them.” The party was shocked to learn that their loyalty could shift away.

In the case of Gangwon’s voters, the GNP sanguinely thought that all it had to do to woo them would be to field a popular personality and play up the North Korean threat and the importance of security in the border region. Its arrogance led to a poor choice of a candidate. The former president and anchorman of a nationwide broadcasting company that sparked the mad cow scare with controversial feature stories questioning safety of American beef imports. A figure who repeatedly clashed with the government was converted into a conservative to run for Gangwon’s vacant governor’s position. His conversion didn’t convince and he lost.

The main opposition Democratic Party was a bit overconfident in its estimation of voters too. It believed it could breeze through the election in Gimhae, hometown of its party head and former president Roh Moo-hyun. But Gimhae voters proved they had minds of their own.

These results offer to us a revelation: political parties cannot rely on the public to vote for them over and over again. Voters are not gullible. They are wise individuals capable of making a vote on the issues and the candidates, not because they’re slaves of parties. And voters have come to trust no one but themselves.

Electoral politics requires the ability to hear the voice of the people. To perceive sound, the ear must detect vibrations from the ear drum. Somewhere down the road, politicians lost the vibration and the ability to hear. They have become more and more detached from the everyday lives of ordinary people because their senses have been ignored while they concentrate on the ideological game.

When dominated by ideology, politics loses touch with reality and becomes completely obsessed with gaining power to serve that ideology. Such political self-indulgence was explicit during the campaigning in Bundang. Despite Bundang’s posh facade, its residents are weary. Young people failing to find jobs after graduation live frustratingly in their parents’ houses. Middle-aged couples are stymied by the expense required by their children’s education. Seniors, despite lengthened life expectancies, have used up most of their savings and pensions.

They need solutions to their problems and they hoped to feel empathy and hear promises of a better tomorrow from their aspiring representatives.

But all they heard from the ruling party was that “power shouldn’t be given to the leftists.” Bundang voters voted overwhelmingly for the GNP in the past, disillusioned by the ideological politicking of the Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung administrations.

In the latest campaign, it was the conservative party that hoped to ride to victory on ideology. It was ignorant to assume Bundang people would vote for its candidate because of appeals to nationalism and hostility toward North Korea. Ideology does little to solve mundane problems.

If the GNP really cared that much for the country, it should have paid closer attention to the struggles of each and every person in this land. The unfair concentration of wealth and economic polarization is getting more severe. Yet the incumbent administration says it’s working for an equal and fair society.

Who thinks this society equal or fair? Who runs the financial sector and owns hundreds of elephantine public entities? Who would heed a call for equality coming from an organization - the government - that is hardly fair? The easy way to campaign for equality in hopes of scoring points with the public is attacking big corporations. This administration is demanding large companies share their profit with smaller ones and threatens to use its power as a big shareholder - because of assets of the national pension fund - when they do not comply.

Our corporate brands have become best sellers on world markets for the first time in our history. Their producers should be encouraged to keep up the good work while seeking ways to increase hiring and spread the wealth to smaller industries. But this is complex and hard work. It cannot be done with a command from on high. That is a totally outdated, ideological approach.

What’s even more pitiful is that politicians still don’t get it. All they have done since the elections is point fingers, name scapegoats and fight among themselves. Of course, they also are worrying about the next election but not out of concern for the people. What they fear is losing their seats. The opposition, meanwhile, is busy doing math. Their electoral alliances in the last two rounds of elections have brought victory and they are calculating which combinations can work best next year. To these parties, the people are mere digits.

But the voters have awakened. People are focused on who will work on their behalf to solve and deal with their everyday problems. They trust no party. Politicians better remember that if they don’t want to see a replay of last month’s election results.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAngIlbo.

By Moon Chang-keuk
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