Votes countToday is Election Day. A considerable number of 12.16 million citizens in Seoul, Busan and other 19 constituencies are expected to cast their ballots at voting booths in the largest-ever by-elections held across the country.
As elections are a barometer of public sentiment, by-elections are no exception. Given the significance of the two major by-elections in Seoul and Busan with only 11 months left before the next presidential election on March 9, 2022, both the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition People Power Party (PPP) fiercely competed to win. Lee Nak-yon, head of the DP’s campaign, apologized for unethical investments by Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) employees using inside information, promised reforms, and appealed for support for the party’s candidates, Park Young-sun in Seoul and Kim Young-choon in Busan. In reaction, Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the PPP, pleaded for support from voters to “punish the Moon Jae-in administration for its incompetence and lies over the last four years.”
But the campaigns of the two major parties were utterly disappointing. Their candidates were bent on attacking rivals with negative campaigns and only competed in populist ways without presenting any real visions for the future. In particular, the DP is being criticized for trying to help Kim Young-choon by a presidential promise to build an international airport on Gadeok Island off Busan. That is regrettable. Womenlink, a progressive civic group, condemned both the DP and PPP for turning a blind eye to the grim reality that the two major by-elections are being held after the two former mayors committed sexual assaults on their secretaries.
Considering the role of elections and political parties in a modern democracy, we cannot but question whether the DP and PPP really played their proper roles. Still, voters must pass judgment on them, as the power of votes helps propel our democracy forward. A whopping 20.54 percent of voters cast ballots in the early voting on Friday and Saturday. We hope the remaining 9.66 million voters exercise their voting rights today.
We also urge the National Election Commission (NEC) to maintain neutrality. People are worried about its impartiality after the parliamentary elections last year. After the NEC banned the PPP from using slogans such as “Why are the by-elections held?” and “Votes defeat hypocrisy, incompetence and self-praise!” because those expressions were suggestive of a particular party (meaning the DP), a spokesperson for the Justice Party denounced the decision by NEC as nonsensical. The NEC must not trigger controversy. It must manage today’s by-elections in a fair and neutral way.