Stop negative campaigningNegative campaigning is again prevailing in the run-up to the June 4 local elections. Mudslinging to win the favor of voters by demeaning opponents and pointing out their weaknesses - instead of pitching platforms and showing one’s own strengths - have long been common in Korean elections. Candidates are resorting to foul play, fighting for attention in a low-key campaign in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster. With little time left, some are unleashing slander and accusations to denounce rivals without civility or decency. With all of society still in a state of shock, shame and disillusionment, voters are mostly interested in what candidates can offer to improve safety on national and regional levels, but politicians are disappointing.
Chung Mong-joon, a heavyweight member of the ruling Saenuri Party contending for the Seoul mayoral office, took personal jabs at rival incumbent mayor Park Won-soon, who has been far ahead in opinion polls. His camp is questioning why Park’s wife is never seen publicly, claiming she may have left the country. Park issued a statement and held a press conference criticizing his opponent for making false accusations against his family and bringing mudslinging into the campaign.
The whereabouts of the wife of a senior elected official could be considered public interest. But comments and accusations must be based on reasonable grounds. Chung’s camp has not provided any reason for suddenly inquiring about the mayor’s wife or why her whereabouts matter in this election. If the candidate raises a problem, they must also give an appropriate explanation - such as an illegal or immoral aspect.
During a TV debate among aspiring Seoul superintendents, civilian activist candidate Jo Hee-yeon called rival Koh Seung-duk a migrating politician for moving from one party to another. The host had to interfere to ask contenders to refrain from making slanderous accusations on TV. Candidates for Gyeonggi province education chief have brought up each other’s criminal and medical records instead of contending on an education agenda.
The Sewol disaster demands that society participate in deep soul-searching. Negative campaigning is another poor and outdated legacy that our society can do without. What voters want to hear are visions and policy agendas, not spiteful accusations.