DUP’s experiment in public voting attracts 643,000

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DUP’s experiment in public voting attracts 643,000

A political experiment by Korea’s largest opposition party, aimed at winning the public’s support by allowing it to vote in its upcoming leadership election, got off to a strong start as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people signed up to vote.

The Democratic Unity Party said yesterday a total of 643,353 voting-age people had applied for the right to vote between today and Jan. 15 in its leadership election.

The party wrapped up the application process Saturday. Every applicant is entitled to vote.

The number is almost five times the party members eligible to cast votes in the election. The DUP has 21,000 chapter representatives and 127,920 ordinary members who paid party membership fees for six months or longer and have the right to vote in party elections.

Adding in the new citizen voters, the size of the voter base, 792,273, is the biggest ever in a party leadership election in Korea.

What makes the experiment even more unique is that people will be allowed to cast votes through their mobile phones, a method no other political institution in the world has tried before.

The citizens and ordinary party members have been given the option to vote in person on Saturday or via phone from today through Saturday. Chapter representatives will cast their votes at a convention Sunday.

The votes by the chapter representatives determine 30 percent of the scores for candidates, with the other 70 percent reflecting the votes by ordinary members and the new citizen voters.

“We didn’t expect people to swarm like this. It scares even us,” said Kwak Eun-mi, director of the DUP’s online management division, as she watched the number of people applying for voting rights surge to over 470,000 at the party’s office in Yeongdeungpo District last Friday.

The DUP’s experiment follows a trend of increasing political openness and tech savviness as personified by software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, who seems to be angling for political office, and new Seoul mayor Park Won-soon.

Political analysts say it’s exciting, but they’re unsure whether it shows a maturing of Korean democracy.

Last October, the Socialist Party of France allowed non-party members to participate in the party’s election, but that was for the party’s presidential candidate, not its leadership.

Lee Cheol-hee, vice head of the Institute for Democracy and Policies, called the experiment part of the evolution of Korean party politics.

He said political parties, criticized for being insular and isolated from the public, are expanding their turf by reaching down to the grass root.

Others analysts said this trend could alter the age-old practice of rewarding leadership positions to figures who can organize or raise money best.

But, there are also concerns that the experiment could benefiting specific groups, or ideologies.

A majority of the people participating in the DUP’s online voting are assumed to be from the younger generations, who are often left-leaning.

“If a political party is closely aligned with a specific interest group, it could over-represent the group and the party itself can become an interest group,” said Kim Hyeong-jun, a politics professor at Myongji University. “It is tantamount to the dissolution of the party.”

Yoon Seong-i, a professor at Kyung Hee University, warned that the concurrent use of social networking services in campaigns could lead to an explosion of negative campaigning, with people hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet.

He said the DUP’s phone voting method could be vulnerable to hacking or other kinds of technical manipulation.

Some insiders in the DUP are also concerned about the identity of the party.

“Why do we still need members paying membership fees?” an official of the DUP asked. “Without party members armed with the same identity and values, parties will just follow popular social trends wherever they lead.”

By Moon Gwang-lip, Chae Byeong-geon [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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