Parties enter campaign mode

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Mar 24, 2016 - 16:50
  • Updated : Mar 24, 2016 - 18:16

The race for the April general election gained momentum Thursday with the start of the official candidate registration, leaving behind brutal internal nomination fights and stepping up the fierce battle for seats in the next National Assembly.

The prospective candidates will register for the election until Friday. The election law requires candidates from political parties to be endorsed by their leaders and independent candidates to be endorsed by between 300 and 500 supporters.

Since the law bans candidates from launching their election campaigns before March 30, they are not able to hold rallies until then. Instead, they can publicize themselves via text messages. Only the candidate can send such text messages to voters at a maximum of five times for each respondent.
Candidates Rep. Lee Jung-hyun (from left) of the Saenuri Party, Noh Gwan-gyu of The Minjoo Party of Korea and Koo Hee-seung of the People’s Party leave after registering themselves with the election commission office at Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, Thursday. (Yonhap)
“Those seeking to represent the people have to observe the laws on the campaign trail,” said Lee In-bok, the chairperson of the National Election Commission, urging a fair race up to April 13. “If the candidates violate the rules, they will be held accountable,” he said.

The violations include slandering candidates by spreading false rumors, bribing voters and manipulating opinion polls. The candidates also have to make public their total assets, criminal, military and tax records, among others.

The transition to the election campaign came after mainstream parties finished their nomination process. Some 33 percent of incumbent lawmakers were denied opportunity to run in the elections. Out of 288 incumbents, 96 were denied nomination by their parties.

The Saenuri Party managed to replace about 38 percent of its incumbents with political rookies, while the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People’s Party achieved turnout rates of almost 29 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

But the parties were far from achieving the goals that they had set before the nomination battle. The Saenuri Party, who had promised to select all candidates through opinion polls and primaries among grassroots members and average voters, only chose 56.4 percent of the candidates through the process.

Instead, the ruling party returned to old tactics – nominating political heavyweights supported by factions close to the president without preliminary competition. “It was the worst nomination process that stifles our democracy,” said Rep. Cho Hae-jin who defected from the party to run as an independent.  

The same was true for the Minjoo Party. It had vowed to allocate 30 percent of parliamentary seats elected through proportional representation to female politicians, but only 12 percent of the applicants was included in the list.

The main opposition’s pledge to attract more young politicians was overshadowed by the power struggle between the hawkish wing of the party and its interim leader Rep. Kim Chong-in. Some prospective candidates protested against what they view as an “unilateral” decision to exclude them from the list.

Both parties’ No. 1 picks for the proportional seat were scientists, a move reflecting the country’s current infatuation with artificial intelligence sparked off by the Go match between Lee Se-dol and AlphaGo earlier this month.

The rival parties, meanwhile, failed to embrace ethnic diversity in proportional nomination. Most foreign immigrants were either excluded from the list or ended up being placed far in the back with unlikely chances of winning.

“It was a huge disappointment for people,” said Lee Jung-hee, political professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “The parties have to show their political agendas through the nomination, but they didn’t. I am afraid that it could worsen peoples’ frustration with politics,” said Lee.

By Yeo Jun-suk (