[Viewpoint] A campaign to forget

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[Viewpoint] A campaign to forget

An intense election is finally over. Many Korean voters felt dizzy at the attacks, the claims, the promises, the denials and all the exhortations pumped out through social network services encouraging people to vote and take photographs of themselves at polling stations as proof that they performed their civic duty.

The election can be summed up as a confrontation between an older generation defending Seoul as it always has been and a younger generation that refuses to be talked down to or remain mute. If the trend continues, the ruling and opposition parties may need to come up with very new approaches to the electorate and some creative ways to win elections in the future.

The Grand National Party may consider the following sequence of ideas: Stop all construction of power plants; Schedule an election in the middle of winter, when the energy demand peaks; Stage an unexpected blackout; Disable social network services. These are the secret weapons to lower voter turnout among the young generation.

In turn, the opposition party needs this strategy. First, schedule an election in the middle of winter. Then, have the heads of local autonomous government agencies affiliated with the opposition party use their authority to stop snow removal on the streets. The elderly will not want to tromp down to polling stations as they may slip on the icy street.

In either case, elections will now only be held in the middle of freezing winters.

It is risky to consider an election as a mere political exercise. That turns the voters into the object of election strategy, not the main subject of the election. A proper election should highlight the multidimensional aspect of Korean society hidden behind politics. One of them is the economy. The watershed of an election may actually be the economy. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the economy has been a key factor in major elections around the world. Despite all kinds of strategies and tactics employed by candidates, the outcomes were almost always determined by economic indices.

In the presidential election in Brazil last year, Dilma Rousseff, a successor of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won a landslide victory thanks to surprising economic growth of over 7 percent. In the general election in India in 2009, the ruling National Congress Party won an overwhelming victory. At the time, the rate of India’s economic growth was 9.7 percent. When the economy is thriving, people have no reason to seek change in politics.

The contrasting examples are Great Britain and Japan. The Conservative Party defeated the Labour Party for the first time in 13 years as the Labour Party could not maintain support with 0 percent economic growth. The same goes for Japan. In its sluggish economy, the Democratic Party defeated the Liberal Democrats and took power.

A country we need to watch closely is Australia. In the general election last year, both the ruling and opposition parties failed to win a majority. The ruling Labor Party attracted two independent members and barely maintained a coalition. The growth rate at the time was about 3 percent.

However, this year, China’s retrenchment policy led to a decrease of coal and iron ore exports, and the growth rate plummeted to 1 percent. With that poor report card, election results are predictable. This year, the governing Labor Party has been crushed in every election.

Interestingly, Korea has maintained economic growth at 4 percent. Compared to other countries, Korea’s economy has been performing relatively well. However, it is still disappointing in the realms of social polarization and unemployment among the youth. These factors may have contributed to the close matches in recent elections.

When an election outcome is ambiguous, politicians are tempted to use tricks. The ruling party tried to discourage young voters with attacks on the rival candidate. Park Won-soon’s camp focused its campaign on social networks and the support of a prominent mentor. Can character attacks or barrages of messages on social network services produce a calm judgment from the voters? The politicians need to ask themselves whether they are, in fact, blurring the people’s judgment.

The mayoral candidates were the sidekicks, and former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye and ever-popular Ahn Cheol-soo stole the spotlight in the campaigns. It is questionable how many voters actually thought about which candidate would better serve the citizens of Seoul.

As we have one election after another, we better get used to “election engineering.” At this rate, we may have to carry dead cell phones and walk carefully over icy roads to polling stations on cold winter days to cast our votes. The election is over, but the campaign leaves a bitter taste.

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

By Lee Chul-ho
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