One of the salient outcomes of the June 4 local elections is that the most left-wing parties fared very badly. Their performance was so poor that one might even say the liberal forces as a whole, which had been building up their support base steadily in recent years, are now in crisis.
The far left groups performed dismally across the board. They were removed from all five of their mayoral seats ― one in Incheon and four in Ulsan, the latter a traditional stronghold of laborers, and lost still more seats at local councils.
The Unified Progressive Party, the largest left-wing group, which fielded more than 500 candidates, managed to send 37 members to local councils, compared with 142 in the 2010 local elections. The smaller Justice Party and the Labor Party got only 11 and seven council members elected, respectively.
These election results clearly showed that except for a small number of loyal supporters, voters, especially moderates and those on the center-left, are shunning them. The latest scandals involving left-wing politicians must have swayed the electorate.
Many remember the violence and primary rigging scandal that buffeted the UPP when it elected its candidates for the 2012 parliamentary elections. One lawmaker even set off a tear gas canister in the National Assembly.
More recently, with the rebellion and mutiny trial of UPP lawmaker Lee Seok-ki, the bloc has been accused of espousing pro-North Korean ideologies and other radical political lines.
Lee and his followers’ political activities caused such national concerns that the party’s legitimacy is being challenged in the Constitutional Court.
It was natural that entering the campaigns, left-wing candidates felt they were not as well received as they had been. Seeing only slim chances, many UPP candidates pulled out.
Those who dropped out justified their action by saying they were “unifying the opposition camp” and thereby lowering the chances that candidates of the conservative ruling party would win.
As the UPP insists, giving up one’s candidacy in the middle of an election campaign and declaring support for former rivals is a political activity that cannot be restricted by law or other means.
But it certainly distorts the competition and confuses voters, who on the voting day see the names of all candidates on the ballot papers, including those who have already bowed out. Not surprisingly, the proportion of invalid ballots increases in those election districts.
A bigger problem is that these candidates abuse taxpayers’ money. All parties, big and small, receive state election subsidies. The UPP, for instance, received a total of 3.2 billion won, including 480 million won set aside as an incentive for nominating female candidates.
The UPP pocketed all the money, even though some of its candidates, including those who ran in major elections like gubernatorial and mayoral races, bowed out.
The UPP generated the same controversy in the 2012 presidential election, when its leader Lee Jung-hee pulled out of the three-way race, declaring that she was backing out to keep ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye from being elected. The UPP pocketed 2.7 billion won in election subsidies at that time, even though its candidate did not finish the race.
The Saenuri Party is rightly calling for a revision to the Political Fund Law to address this problem. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is urged to respond favorably to the suggestion and start legislative discussions immediately to make parties return at least some of the election subsidies if their candidates quit the races. It is absurd to allow the same wrongs to be repeated in every election.