Qualifications count the mostAmong three national elections in Korea - presidential, general and local - the latter, in particular, is about grass-roots democracy. Voters cast ballots to pick leaders who will enhance their own communities.
Depending on who they choose for the 17 mayoral posts of special and large administrative cities and for 226 small-city mayors, county and district heads on Wednesday, the quality of people’s daily life - welfare, environment, water and sewage, housing and cultural projects - is determined. At the same time, a total of 3,687 local council members across the country serve a crucial role in enacting town ordinances and keeping their administrative heads in check. Each candidate’s qualifications thus outweigh his or her political parties or inclination.
In this respect, it is not desirable for the campaign to focus more on punishing the central government than on choosing candidates who will take care of the daily lives of people. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) has gone too far in attacking the Park Geun-hye administration, while the ruling Saenuri Party is bent on advocating the current government. In a radio address, Saenuri’s Seoul mayoral candidate Chung Mong-joon labeled the June 4 local election a fight between those who want to protect President Park Geun-hye and those who attempt to destroy her government. The same party’s Gyeonggi gubernatorial candidate Nam Kyung-pil joined the chorus by urging voters to “support the presidential leadership.” A placard, which reads “Please protect President Park” was set up everywhere in Seoul.
Without pitching their own campaign, candidates are engrossed in so-called “Park Geun-hye marketing.” Chairman of the Saenuri Party’s campaign, Suh Chung-won, went a step further by saying, “Whether President Park can serve out her term depends on this election.” His remarks are apparently aimed at evoking voters’ sympathy for her after her administration’s lethargic response to the tragic Sewol ferry sinking in April.
That marks a departure from the past. Whenever opposition parties urged voters to punish the government through local elections, ruling parties countered it with promises of hefty financial support from the central government. The opposition NPAD has been busy attacking the central government for its inept handling of the Sewol disaster. Head of the opposition party Kim Han-gill is now begging voters to release sadness through votes.
The ferry tragedy has had such huge repercussions that it can be an issue. But this local election must not end with punishing or protecting the central government. Voters must cast ballots based on candidates’ platforms - not on their political affiliations. It is their duty job to safeguard grass-roots democracy.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 3, Page 30