Two leading presidential candidates, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, are escalating attacks on each other as the competition heats up.
The Moon campaign raised allegations that Ahn has links with gangsters, based on a group photo taken at his campaign event, and that his wife received special favors when she was a professor at Seoul National University, citing some online comments.
Moon’s campaign also slammed Ahn as a plagiarist, claiming that part of his presidential nomination acceptance speech was overly similar to former US President Barack Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention.
The Ahn campaign countered by raising allegations that Moon’s son received undue favors in landing a job in 2006 and that Moon covered up a drunk driving accident caused by the father of President Roh Moo-hyun’s daughter-in-law in 2003 when he was senior presidential secretary for civil affairs.
Both Ahn and Moon need to clarify the suspicions against them, but their campaigns are too focused on finding fault with each other. It is pitiful to use unverified online comments as fodder for attacks.
Campaigns to tarnish the reputation of opposing candidates by raising suspicions may end up alienating voters. The tide might change instantly if faults are exposed by the scrutiny of candidates and those around them.
In a broad sense, raising suspicions are a necessary part of vetting candidates. However, if candidates become consumed by slander, they might begin to neglect their policies and vision.
Candidates’ qualifications and ability to lead the nation have not been clearly manifested yet, even though the presidential election is just four weeks away. They have not presented concrete policies and are just wagging their fingers at one another.
It is delusion for a candidate to expect negative campaigning to attract voters. Negative tactics may boomerang, turning voters against the attacker.
The forthcoming presidential election is significant to Koreans, as the nation faces difficult domestic and international problems. However, if candidates continue picking on one another, they have their campaign priorities wrong.
For example, how to respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats and how to deal with the US and China appear to be of little concern to Moon and Ahn, though these are critical issues directly linked to the lives of the people.
They should show voters their concrete blueprints on diplomacy and the security of the nation. The same is true of policies on chaebol, youth unemployment, labor relations, education and the like.
Of course, vetting the ethical behavior of candidates is an important matter, but considering that the election is aimed at selecting the national leader, voters should be given the chance to examine candidates’ policies, pledges and vision.
Koreans reached this point after going through difficulties from candlelight protests to the dismissal of the president. Mudslinging should have no place in their efforts to begin a new era.
Candidates and voters do not have much time to think about the policies that will guide the nation, as the next government is to start work on May 10, a day after the election, without a transition period.
Candidates need to draw up their actions and programs to run state affairs immediately if they win the election. They should compete by using their policies on pending diplomatic, security, economic and social problems, which they will have to deal with if elected.
Voters need to know how well candidates understand national and international issues in order to identify who is most qualified to lead the nation. To ensure they are given the chance to make the best choice, candidates should stop their negative campaigning and head in a positive direction.