A race of mud-slingingWith two weeks left before the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, each party's candidates have been determined. Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) on Tuesday defeated Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party in a contest to field a single candidate representing the opposition front. Oh, a former Seoul mayor who had to resign over the free lunch program for high school students 10 years ago, urged voters to support him to "repay the debt I owed to Seoul." Ahn accepted his defeat and pledged to "do my best to achieve the victory of the opposition" against the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
With Oh's victory on the opposition front, he will compete against the DP's candidate Park Young-sun in Seoul while Park Hyeong-joon of the PPP battles against Kim Young-choon of the DP in Busan.
Due to the massive scale of the by-elections, in which a fourth of the entire population will cast votes, and given the significance of the elections to be held less than a year before the next presidential election on March 9, the race is getting proper attention. The problem is that candidates on both sides are engrossed with winning the election.
The DP and government are using all available means. Following President Moon Jae-in's trip to Gadeok Island off Busan in February to demonstrate his support for the construction of an airport and the passage of a special bill to fund the project in the National Assembly the next day, the ruling front is pressing ahead with another supplementary budget amounting to 20 trillion won ($17.7 billion). Park, the DP's candidate for the Seoul mayoral post, promised to hand out 100,000 won to each Seoul citizen to help ease their pain amid the pandemic if elected. The Seoul city government, still led by allies of the late mayor Park Won-soon, vowed to dole out 1 trillion won to the needy class to buy their votes.
The opposition camp has been bent on fielding a single candidate in Seoul since December without trying to find a competent and competitive administrator of the city. The PPP pinned its hope on a strong public backlash over the shocking scandal over Korea Land and Housing Corp. employees buying land with inside information. We wonder if the party has any real vision.
Instead, both sides are bent on launching negative campaigns against one another. The DP attacked former Seoul mayor Oh for the city's generous compensation for the land owned by his wife's family and criticized Park Hyeong-joon for the special benefits he allegedly received before buying an expensive apartment in Busan. In reaction, the PPP is raising suspicion over the possession of a Tokyo apartment by Park Young-sun's husband and the alleged involvement of Kim Young-choon in a financial scam.
The National Election Commission (NEC)'s neutrality is being questioned. A women's group asked for permission to use phrases such as "Why are the by-elections held?" and "We vote for gender equality!" The NEC said no. (The two elections are being held because of sexual misconduct by the two cities' mayors.) Above all, voters must demand answers to how to raise the two cities' competitiveness and improve citizens' livelihoods.