Violence rears its headIn a campaign rally on Monday in Seoul, Rep. Song Young-gil, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), was attacked viciously from behind. After being slammed in the head with a hammer, Song was sent to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Such a shocking attack on a major political figure is the first since the presidential race started last year. The alleged assailant posted images of himself following the DP head at previous events on his YouTube channel. The incident is being investigated by the police, but such violence must not happen in elections. We vividly remember the moment in 2006 when Park Geun-hye — then chair of the opposition Grand National Party — was slashed with a box-cutter during local elections.
As election day approaches Wednesday, the race is heated. As record-high turnout in the early voting on Friday and Saturday suggests, interest is high and no candidate shows an overwhelming lead in the polls. As a result, negative attacks are in full swing. Some supporters use violence against their rivals during campaigns.
The government must prepare for any contingency. After the alleged assailant turned out to have posted pro-government images on his YouTube channel in the past, some netizens went overboard in their reactions to the violence. Some proposed a “pilgrimage” to the spot of the attack to show their support for the DP.
Democracy thrives on the exercise of voting rights. To achieve that goal, everyone should be allowed to cast ballots freely without any concerns about violence or vote rigging or any type of illegitimate intervention. Political parties and candidates must send messages to prevent excessive behavior by supporters. Law enforcement authorities must make clear their determination to deal sternly with such acts.
As this election is neck-and-neck, voters will likely not accept the defeat of their candidates after the results come out. Given the glitches in the electoral process administered by the National Election Commission (NEC) for early voting last Saturday, some voters are beginning to talk about civil disobedience in case their candidate loses. Even in the United States, considered a model democracy, mobs stormed Congress to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election. Such misguided actions can happen in Korea, too.
The NEC and government must clear mounting suspicions over vote rigging in the early voting by finding effective ways to protect the voting rights of the voters who tested positive for Covid-19. Elections are all about fairness. Without it, our democracy cannot last.