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[Editorial] No more demagoguery

Politicians should rise above rabble-rousing, use of coarse language, and meet voters' standards

By Korea Herald

Published : April 10, 2024 - 05:31

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For many years, political news in South Korea has been awash with unpleasant or horrible things politicians said or did, either recently or years ago. Especially ahead of elections, parties with political interests go all out to dig dirt on their opponents in an apparent bid to take them down. The past two weeks were no exception, and sadly, it seems to get worse each year.

It is a wonder how some people with such lack of conscience or decency could win major political parties’ nomination for candidacy, or even think about running for office in the first place. Those who have publicly made abhorrent remarks or false accusations based on lies or half-told truths, as well as people with serious criminal records, should have been screened out before they made it to the ballot papers. Oddly, many of them weren’t. Of the 699 registered candidates vying to represent a total of 254 electoral districts today, 34.6 percent are ex-convicts. For the proportional representation seats, a quarter of the 253 candidates have criminal records.

There are, of course, many reputable, law-abiding candidates with viable campaign pledges and solid visions for their constituencies who are not interested in smear tactics. But such people are often overshadowed by the sharp-tongued or controversial grandstanders because greater media attention is given to the latter. This is one of the main reasons voters are feeling increasingly disillusioned or disoriented with politics. The media should, therefore, increase coverage of reasonable and competent figures including newbies in politics and be mindful not to give too much space to nasty things said and done by a few bad seeds.

A majority of South Korean voters vote for a party they support, or see as “of lesser evil.” Even if they decide to vote for a party they prefer, they should check on the person they are voting for. A quick search on the internet will tell them what they need to know about each candidate in their district. Voters must remember that the more dubious characters enter the National Assembly, the greater the risk of the legislature getting stuck in partisan dysfunction.

Unfortunately, even seasoned politicians, including those who have done multiple terms as lawmakers, have sought to instigate voters’ anger against their opponents through the use of blunt or vulgar language ahead of today’s election. One can only hope that they learn by the end of today that such gambits no longer work.

No matter how desperate they are, South Korean politicians should realize that voters are smarter than they think. Voters are no longer easily swayed by demagoguery or smear campaigns.

A record 31.3 percent of registered voters already cast their ballots during the two-day early voting session on Friday and Saturday. The high early voter turnout shows that South Koreans are more determined than ever to make their voices heard. They have seen how a parliament controlled by the opposition has constrained the Yoon Suk Yeol administration from passing bills for its key policies. If the opposition wins the majority again, it will be interpreted as South Koreans’ warning against the Yoon administration and disapproval of its performance over the past two years.

The ruling party’s floor leader Yoon Jae-ok implored voters Monday to “save the country from a crisis” by giving his party enough votes to keep the opposition from revising the Constitution or impeaching the president at their will. Should the opposition win 200 or more seats in the 300-member parliament, they can revise the Constitution, as a Constitutional amendment requires the concurrent vote of two-thirds or more of the total members of the National Assembly.

The ruling party estimates that it is leading in about 90 electoral districts out of a total of 254, and expects to win about 20 proportional representation seats. Even if the People Power Party manages to win over 100 or 110 seats today, it should not forget that close to two-thirds of the voters chose the opposition over them. That would mean the Yoon administration must look back and try better to read the people's minds and sentiments. Above all, whether the Yoon administration can pull off the three major reforms it promised -- pension, labor and education -- over the next three years will depend on today's results.