Disrespect for democracy

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Disrespect for democracy

Korean nationals who tested positive for the new coronavirus and those under self-quarantine upon returning from overseas have been stripped of their right to vote in the April 15 parliamentary elections.

The government warned that it would punish anyone with suspected symptoms if they violate the government’s self-quarantine and stay-home order by visiting polling locations. The application to vote by mail expired on March 28. The government maintains that it won’t receive any more applicants for mail-in ballots. Anyone coming from overseas has been ordered to stay home for two weeks, so those who returned home on or after April 1 cannot vote. That is a clear violation of their constitutional rights.

The government’s order is understandable. The spread of the virus has not stopped. Hundreds of new cases have been confirmed among people coming in from abroad, and many fear another wave of infections. However, the government has as much duty to guarantee citizens’ right to vote as it does to protect public health. If the government sticks to its position, about 100,000 people being treated for Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, along with students and residents overseas, won’t be able to exercise their right to vote. And that’s not all. Voting in polling stations in our 40 overseas missions, including the United States, has been prohibited due to lockdowns in their communities. As a result, an estimated 80,000 Koreans living abroad will be excluded from the April vote.

The government must come up with an alternative plan instead of simply excluding these citizens from the election. Twenty-five overseas residents filed a lawsuit against the National Election Commission for infringing on their rights.

There is still enough time before election day. If the government gets serious about it, there are ways. It could ask voters to cast their ballots at the airport upon arrival, extend the time frame to vote by mail or create exceptional polling stations to accommodate coronavirus patients.

The Constitution stipulates that the power lies with the people and all the state power comes from the people. The question is not how many are excluded from the election. Regardless of the number, a state must not underestimate a single vote as such action can seriously undermine the citizen’s basic rights and the very foundation of democracy. A quarantine cannot excuse government negligence.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, Page 30

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