Neutrality is key to election

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Neutrality is key to election

 The 22-day official race for the March 9 presidential election has kicked off. But the reality is grim. The biggest festival of democracy has become “the most distasteful one” in Korean modern history “marred by scandals, bickering, and insults” even in the eyes of foreign media.

To help avoid the “worst-ever” election and candidate labels, the contestants as well as the government, the Blue House and the National Election Commission (NEC) must work hard to restore esteem and faith in one of the most important votes for Koreans.

Candidates and their parties must change first. They must return to a contest of leadership, vision and policies. This is no time for bickering about a candidate laying his feet on a train seat or another candidate smoking in a non-smoking area, and whose wife behaved more badly. Demonizing the opponent is shaming people who support the candidate.

Under such circumstances, one cannot expect support and cooperation from the other party whoever wins. State governance also cannot be easy in such divisive environments. The contestants must regard one another as partners in politics, not as enemies. They must seek out ways for co-survival, not a collective doom.

President Moon Jae-in and the government must fairly manage the election. Moon did order the government to administer a fair and safe election. But actions speak louder than words.

The government cannot be deemed a fair referee. In no past administrations had politicians from the ruling party served as prime minister and the ministers of interior and justice in times of presidential election. The president triggered a protest from the NEC after trying to keep a pro-government figure on as a commissioner after his tenure as standing commissioner ended. Moon publicly scorned opposition People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon Suk-yeol and demanded an apology for the comment he made about launching an investigation on Moon’s government when he is elected president. Moon must avoid any actions that betray neutrality.

The NEC must also ensure neutrality. Six out of the seven commissioners are titled toward the DP as there is no member recommended by the PPP. The commission even banned a satellite party of the PPP from using a certain name as it claimed it suggested its affiliation with the PPP during the 2020 parliamentary elections. The NEC also disallowed the use of a slogan that could work unfavorably for DP candidates during the Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections in April last year. Former commission members advised Noh Jeong-hee, chairwoman of the NEC, to take extra care so as not to cause a partiality issue over election slogans.

Every party must do its part to make amends during the final leg of election race.
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