Stay away from boot campsMilitary sites become a popular destination during election seasons. Candidates are hurrying to military bases as there is not much time left on the presidential election calendar to woo votes from soldiers. Their request for visits puts senior military officials in awkward position. Top brass cannot outright deny them or selectively allow them in fear of political abuse or backlash. Their conundrum will continue until April 15 when presidential hopefuls begin to register as official candidates of their own political parties.
Candidates have been frequenting military bases since late last year after the impeachment trial on President Park Geun-hye was set in motion. Moon Jae-in, former head of the Democratic Party, shared a meal with soldiers at an army base in Gangwon in January. He suggested that military service should be shortened to 18 months. His comment could interest future conscripts, but could undermine discipline among those already in service. It was an irresponsible and impulsive comment when draft candidates are thinning due to demographic factors. By 2025, South Korea would not be able to maintain an armed force of 480,000 even with military service of 21 months due to a reduced young population.
Ahn Cheol-soo, former head of the People’s Party, headed for the Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul. Ahn criticized Nam Kyung-pil, Gyeonggi Governor, for proposing a volunteer recruitment system. During his visit to an army base, Nam promised to introduce a volunteer draft and increase salaries for soldiers. Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party also paid visits to army bases.
Due to their frequent visits, the Ministry of National Defense sent letters to political parties on Feb. 17 requesting restraint in their visits before political parties select their candidates from primaries because the ministry, which is required to keep political neutrality, could add burden to soldiers in preparing to greet high-profile politicians. The military is at high alert due to North Korea’s provocations. Candidates must restrain from visits to military sites. They should not use the army for their political gain when tensions are high on the security front.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 21