Where are the issues?

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Where are the issues?

After a survey of the public and its own members, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy has chosen to make party nominations for grass-roots candidates in the June 4 local elections. The 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent decision forced co-chairman Ahn Cheol-soo to scrap his earlier pledge to end the age-old practice. With that remarkable turnaround, the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition will contest the local elections in June on even ground.

As the development clears away a series of uncertainties, the Saenuri Party chose to criticize Ahn for the flip-flop on his signature campaign promise, saying “Ahn’s ‘new politics’ have been buried today.” But that’s not fair. Actually, it was the ruling party that first broke the same promise, made by President Park Geun-hye during the 2012 campaign to stop party nominations in local elections. It is not right for the ruling party to argue that it’s OK for them to break a promise for practical reasons, but not OK for the opposition to do the very same thing. In fact, both parties must be held accountable for backing down on their pledges. They can’t afford to attack each other on outmoded systems - in which lawmakers end up wielding outsized influence in the nominations for heads of district, county and city governments and their councilmen.

The June local elections have lost much of their heat due to the black hole issue of the nominations as evidenced by the disappearance of issues that were prominent in the past local elections, like the “referendum on the incumbent government” in 2006 or the heated controversy over free school lunches in 2010.

Of course, President Park’s unrivaled approval ratings, which hover over 60 percent in her second year in office, and voters’ wariness about populist campaign promises could have played a part in the cooling down of poll fervor. However, the question of whether or not to scrap party nominations has dominated the discussion. Now both parties should shift their focus to an issue-oriented competition. Otherwise, they will hardly overcome the temptation to sling mud for the next two months. We hope both parties debate practical policies to improve people’s lives.

With Ahn’s dramatic about-face, we wonder if the new opposition will see a head-on collision between followers of Ahn and of former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in. The two factions - the former numbering in the hundreds and the latter in the thousands - will likely quibble over the fairness of the nominations. Both sides must first get over their schism to triumph in any election.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 34

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