No box of chocolates
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Elections have become an unpleasant obligation. At times, we are forced to choose between the lesser of the evils. It is a comfort to think we avoided the worst. But there is no other choice sometimes when no figure stands out on a ballot. If many voters feel this way, it shows how far our politics have to go.
The April 15 parliamentary elections were definitely tricky. One out of four voters could not decide whom to cast their ballots for a week ahead of election day. It was an inevitable outcome as the political landscape was totally out of sync with the composition on the ballots. The general election was a choice between absolute loyalty to a party and outright hatred for the other. For centrists who side with no one, it was a hard decision.
The proportional representation system gave birth to a number of parties. No election had so many in the past. The shopping list went on too long to read. Voters had to be extra careful to stamp the right section because the ballot had so many names. Even with so many political parties, there wasn’t much of a contest over policies or campaign platforms. Parties were created overnight with random recruits and copied platforms from their parent parties. The satellite parties emerged as cheerleading scouts for the two majority parities.
Third-rate politics have turned more pathetic this time because the ruling Democratic Party (DP) pressed ahead with the revision to the election law. The original design of the revision was to give more opportunities to minority parties to mitigate some of the flaws of our overly binary political culture. But the election results only reinforced the two-party system as seats merely served the DP and the main opposition United Future Party (UFP). Ordinary voters could hardly understand the new system. Korea has adopted the most complicated German election model and then tweaked it more amid a partisan battle to get more proportional representation seats in the National Assembly.
Then the ruling party created satellite parties — which it vowed not to — under the name of an alliance of minority parties. When the splinter opposition Justice Party turned its back for the DP’s betrayal, another satellite aligned to the DP was created. The nomination process for both ruling and opposition parties was also chaotic. They “lent” their lawmakers to their own satellite parties to raise the chance of winning proportional representation. The messy ballot was the result. Few in the country can confidently say they are happy with what’s going on in Korean politics.
In a recent survey, over 40 percent of people defined themselves as centrists. But there were no names falling under that category on the ballot. There was one party — the People’s Party — that claimed to be centrist, but its head literally ran throughout the campaign, as in jogging. He did not run to meet voters or local residents. The only campaigning he did was a live feed on his marathon running. The press statement from his party concentrated on his finishing of his 118-kilometer (73-mile) run against heavy winds.
In the 1994 American movie “Forrest Gump,” the slow-witted but kindhearted hero played by Tom Hanks goes on a run one day after he loses his beloved mother and first love and keeps on running for three years. After crossing the United States again and again, he is followed by numerous others. But that was a movie, a fictional plot. Politics is not a closed-mouth marathon. The bizarre election system created such a farcical byproduct.
Gump likes to repeat the life counsel of his mother: “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Life actually can be a random choice. One can choose a sweet milk chocolate, or bitter dark one or even a whisky-flavored one. We cannot know the future. But an election system should not be like that. One should make an informed, intelligent choice. Democracy depends on it.
When there is change, it should be for the better. But the revised electoral law has made things worse. The best option would be to undo the wrong. The current legislature still has a month and half left in its term. It should untangle the knot it tied. It must not leave a legacy in which voters unwillingly head to their polling stations.