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[Kim Myong-sik] Pandemic to silence noise from April general elections

Two-and-a-half months have passed since the last parliamentary election threw South Koreans into a big surprise at the stunning leftist victory. During this period, suspicions of a rigged election persisted in diverse corners, on YouTube screens, social media dialogues and beer tables.

The nation is now bracing for possible resurgence of the pandemic after the number of daily infections grew again from single digits to several tens through May and June. So it is about time to focus national efforts on fighting coronavirus and getting the economy back to normal. And let us put those conspiracy theories to rest.

Some might still want to pore over the result of the April 15 National Assembly elections, which gave the ruling party an exorbitantly large majority of 180 seats against the main opposition party’s 103 in the unicameral house of 300 members. It looked as if a mathematics wizard distributed votes to each of the 253 districts under a weird formula favorable to the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

In the two days of advance voting before the election day, the populous Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi areas shared ballots in exactly the same ratio of 63:36 between the ruling and main opposition parties. As a result, many United Future Party candidates lost neck-and-neck races.

In almost all districts in the two metropolitan cities and their adjoining province, which together account for a half of the nation’s total population of 51 million, opposition candidates, including quite a few UFP leaders, were puzzled that their support rates in the advance voting were lower by 10 to 13 percent than those on April 15. They were leading in the early vote counting, but they emerged losers when ballots in the advance vote were counted in later.

These magic figures and several instances of careless handling of ballots and hitches in the use of counting machines caused suspicions of a rigged election under a sinister plan conceived by the ruling bloc. Adding to the confusion was that the opposition party gathered more votes in the proportional representation process where votes were cast separately to parties, securing 19 seats against the ruling party’s 17.

For the conservatives of South Korea, the 180:103 tilt was hard to swallow as the people’s verdict on them. They now had to deter first the ruling party from aiming higher to the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment in order to change fundamentally the free democratic system of the republic politically, economically and socially.

The main opposition party gave up contesting the election result. Sixteen candidates who narrowly lost the election have individually demanded the sealing of ballot boxes for their suits. Most vocal in raising suspicions were some popular rightwing YouTubers who supported Min Kyung-wook, the former UFP spokesman who was the only contestant in his party to take protest action, staging demonstrations and holding press conferences.

Hwang Kyo-ahn, the party chief, and Shim Jae-chul, the floor leader, who both lost in Seoul districts, left politics. Party bigwigs, whether reelected or not, advised their colleagues to accept the results rather than claiming election fraud without decisive evidence. They did not want to be seen to the electorate as athletes complaining about the weather after losing a race.

The conservative opposition could partly attribute their defeat to people’s recognition of government efforts to protect them from the pandemic and to the release of emergency relief funds close to the day of the election. But they should realize that votes were cast not because the electorate appreciated what the current power holders were doing but because they could find little potential in the opposition as the alternative force for the future.

For the past three years, people had hard times under a sagging economy, chiefly due to the basically wrong policies of “income-led growth,” a steep rise in the mandatory minimum wage and the phasing out of the nuclear energy industry that ruined the vast network of related businesses. Tensions remaining high with North Korea in the absence of progress in the denuclearization process, the protracted purges of the past power and recurring scandals involving the present power were no factors at all to boost the popularity of the government.

Yet, despite all these drawbacks of the leftist rule, the latest general elections created a monster ruling force overflowing the corridors of the legislature. When the Central Election Commission made public the magic figures of 63:36 picked up from the ballot boxes of the advance voting which recorded the unusually high voter turnout of 26.7 percent, suspicions of foul play instantly passed through public minds. Statistics experts at home and abroad opined that they were not possible in the real world.

The election watchdog declared in a press conference 36 days after the vote to say that the numbers were nothing but a coincidence, hence no cause for suspicion. Many patriotic citizens wanted to believe it but doubts remained. If something bad had really been done in this election, it was not like the usual practices in our past history such as ballot stuffing, deliberate mistakes in counting or voting by proxies. It should have been done through computer programming at the very high level of election management.

But where is the evidence? Why no one out of the tens of thousands of election officials and observers from parties is coming out to confess own wrongdoing or make witness report yet? Here is the ultimate question: “Is this country so vulnerable yet as to allow a handful of wicked people to deceive 51 million others with a scheme to hold on to power?”

Let us now give the deniers of misdeeds the benefit of the doubt until the time when truth reveals itself. We think we know the number one reason for the opposition defeat in the April 15 elections. The vote, whatever mysterious numbers it produced, was the extension of the people’s judgment on the malfeasance of Park Geun-hye that led to her impeachment.

During the past three years, the rightist conservatives failed to salvage their own image under splintered banners of parties in different names. Even having more of the likes of Cho Kuk, Choo Mi-ae and Yoon Mi-hyang in their camp, the leftist ruling force can still beat the current oppositionists in future elections, unless the latter prove themselves to have become a party of true rebirth. 

Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. He can be reached at -- Ed.
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