Votes matterAn average of 20.54 percent of voters in Seoul and Busan cast early ballots on Friday and Saturday ahead of the April 7 by-elections. That number broke the record of 19.4 percent for by-elections on Oct. 29, 2014. Given deepening concerns about a spike in Covid-19 cases and the rain on those two days, that’s a remarkable voter turnout. A number of salaried workers may have cast their ballots in the preliminary voting because April 7 is not designated a special holiday.
Another factor in the high voter turnout is the significance of the by-elections in the two largest cities in Korea. The elections are also a harbinger of things to come in the next presidential election on March 9, 2022. Both the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition People Power Party (PPP) had heated internal races to nominate candidates. Seoul showed a whopping 21.95 percent voter turnout for the two consecutive days.
Only two days are left before the by-elections on Wednesday. As poll results are not allowed to be released until 8 p.m. on election day, the DP is pinning its hopes on so-called “shy liberals,” while the PPP has hopes based on the positive turnout numbers released so far. We hope both parties do their best until they cross the finish line. In fact, the DP’s Seoul mayoral candidate Park Young-sun methodically engaged in negative campaigning against her PPP rival Oh Se-hoon by fueling suspicion about his “generous self-compensation” for his wife’s family’s land before it was designated for development. In reaction, Oh stoked public rage over a Tokyo apartment owned by Park’s husband.
Both candidates exchanged insults. After Oh compared President Moon Jae-in to a “dementia patient,” Park called Oh “trash.”
In the meantime, their descriptions of policies for Seoul, including on real estate and welfare, barely registered. Both candidates came up with hefty pledges to win votes. As if to reflect his frustration at his poor poll results despite the DP’s railroading of another disaster relief bill shortly before the by-elections, the DP’s Busan mayoral candidate Kim Young-choon promised to hand out 100,000 won ($89) to each citizen if elected and Seoul mayoral candidate Park vowed to cut public transportation fees by 40 percent for people aged 24 or younger.
We expected the National Election Commission to strike a balance between candidates of the DP and PPP. But it only triggered controversy with its unfair application of standards. The two parties’ candidates should compete on policies. Voters must evaluate them in a cool-headed way. If they did not already cast ballots in preliminary voting, they must exercise their voting rights on Wednesday to determine the fates of our two main cities.