Politicians woo Korea’s 2 million absentee voters

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Politicians woo Korea’s 2 million absentee voters


Around 400 Korean community leaders from 80 countries were invited to a tea party at the Blue House yesterday. They are visiting Korea to attend the four-day World Korean Community Leaders Convention in Seoul. By Ahn Seong-sik

The World Korean Community Leaders Convention, the annual gathering for representatives of overseas Koreans, began in Seoul yesterday and it is drawing more than the usual attention from Korean politicians as the presidential and general elections of 2012 draw near.

Thanks to a revision of the election law in February 2009, Korean nationals living abroad will be able to cast ballots in elections for the first time beginning next year.

According to the National Election Commission, overseas Koreans numbered around 2.87 million as of 2009, almost the same as the number of voters in the nation’s second-largest city, Busan. (Although, of the total, only 2.3 million are eligible to vote.) It’s a brand new constituency that some say could emerge as a game-changer in domestic elections.

This year, the four-day gathering attracted around 400 Korean community leaders from 80 countries, the biggest turnout since its start in 2000, according to the Overseas Koreans Foundation, which is hosting the event. Some observers said that reflects an ever-growing sense of self-confidence in Korean communities abroad.


“With the right to vote being given, the importance and status of Korean communities overseas have grown,” said an official of the ruling Grand National Party.

To listen to their voices and earn their support, lawmakers in charge of policies affecting overseas Koreans from the GNP, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Forward Party are scheduled to meet the delegates at the convention today.

That goodwill gesture will have to be delicate because direct promotion of parties or party members to a potential constituency is banned during the nonelection campaign period under the election law.

Instead, the representatives will likely highlight their efforts to address the needs of Koreans overseas.

The GNP created a committee to handle issues involving overseas Koreans, which now has five subcommittees in the U.S. and China. The DP and LFP have similar committees or staff members tasked with engaging Koreans living abroad.

Although election law bans parties from having overseas branches, it cannot regulate voluntary meetings of people abroad who support parties.

“Political parties are deeply involving themselves with us,” said Kim Keun-ha, head of the Korean Canadian Associations. “They are holding many political seminars.”

Jung Hyo-kwon, head of Koreans in China, said officials of the parties are coming to China often to meet with Koreans there.

The attention from politicians back home is bringing out the political spirit in overseas Koreans. Koreans in Europe now have two groups competing to represent them.

Some are concerned that Korea’s regional divisions will start to be reflected in the overseas communities.

“They distance themselves from regionalism once leaving Korea,” said Noh Duk-sung, president of the Korean-American Society of Central Ohio, “but the hidden conflicts could come to the surface again.”

Aside from those concerns, administrative problems exist for overseas Koreans trying to cast absentee votes.

Under the current law, overseas Koreans will only be allowed to vote at Korean consulates, but their number is limited.

For instance, the Korean Consulate in Chicago handles affairs for Koreans in 13 U.S. states. All of those voters would have to travel to Chicago twice: once to register and again to vote.

“If they have special interests in voting, people will do it no matter what,” said a leader of a Korean community in the U.S. “But for many people, all that time, trouble and expense won’t be worth it.”

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]

李대통령 “공정한 사회 만드는데 주력”

세계한인회장단 靑초청…‘남북문제 어려움에도 정책 일관되게’

이명박 대통령은 14일 70개국 330여명의 세계한인회장을 청와대로 초청해 다과회를 열고 국제사회에서 재외동포의 역할을 당부했다.

특히 이 대통령은 경제 분야에서 국민소득 증가에 걸맞은 국가 선진화를 이루기 위한 공정사회의 중요성을 강조하고, 북한의 개혁ㆍ개방을 통해 남북관계 개선을 이루려는 정부의 정책을 설명했다.

이 대통령은 "우리의 소득이 높아지면서도 그 사회가 공정한 사회가 안된다면 행복한 사회라고 할 수 없다"면서 "소득을 높이는 이상의 노력을 공정한 사회를 만드는 데 쏟으려고 한다"고 말했다.

이 대통령은 "역경이 있어도 이러한 과제를 달성하면 대한민국은 선진 일류국가로 갈 수 있다"면서 "경제적 소득이 높아지면서 (동시에) 공정한 사회를 만들어 선진 자유민주주의 국가가 돼야 한다"고 강조했다.

그러면서 "공정한 사회는 모든 사람에게 기회를 균등하게 주되 결과는 각자 책임지는 사회"라고 덧붙였다.

이어 이 대통령은 "북한을 자유세계에 동참하게 하고 북한이 개방돼 경제적으로 자립할 수 있도록 할 것"이라면서 "G20 정상회의에서도 개발도상국들이 단순히 경제협력이 아니라 경제의 자립기반을 만들어 주는 것이 진정한 개발이라고 보고 있다"고 밝혔다.

이 대통령은 또 "북한은 중국으로부터 배워야 한다"면서 "남북문제에 지금 어려움이 있지만 어려움이 깊으면 깊을수록 희망을 볼 수 있다. 앞으로 가야 할 길을 올바르게 가도록 일관된 정책을 펴나갈 것"이라고 정책 방향을 제시했다.

이 대통령은 "여러분의 의무는 해당 국가에서 존경과 인정을 받는 것"이라면서 "국내 정치 때문에 해외에서도 갈라지지 않도록 해달라"고 당부했다.

내년 총선과 대선부터 재외동포에게도 투표권이 부여되면서 과열 조짐을 보이는 데 따른 우려를 나타낸 것이다.

행사에는 세계한인회장대회 김근하 공동의장과 청와대에서 임태희 대통령실장, 김덕룡 국민통합특보, 김효재 정무수석, 김두우 홍보수석 등이 참석했다.

한편, 이 대통령은 제14차 아시아ㆍ태평양 대법원장 회의 참석자를 청와대로 초청해 만찬을 함께 하고 사법개혁과 사법서비스 개선, 법치주의 확립, 역내 국가간 협력 등에 대해 의견을 교환했다.

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