The 21st general elections are only 100 days away. The ruling Minjoo Party of Korea has started in earnest its campaign to infuse new people as its candidates after four of its lawmakers who are doubling as cabinet ministers announced their decision to not run in the elections. In the face of growing demand to form an emergency committee from both insiders and outsiders of his party, main opposition Liberty Korea Party chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn announced his plan to ‘run in a highly competitive constituency in the Greater Seoul region’ in a gesture of his sacrifice. As a ‘New Conservative’ Party was launched on Sunday, discussions to merge moderate and conservative groups will likely pick up speed as well. The outlook of the general elections is so fluidic that it is almost impossible to draw a political map.
The April 15 elections is largely considered confidence vote of the Moon Jae-in administration, which has started its fourth year in power. Voters’ perception and judgment on his administration’s policy on economy, foreign affairs and national security will be reflected in their choices. The general elections also hold the meaning that political parties will come to get over politics of separation and conflict, and thereby leave past ‘the division due to the impeachment’ of former President Park Geun-hye that has lasted for about three years. The voters will provide a stern message urging the political circle to start efforts to reset the Republic of Korea in order to take a new leap forward.
Both the ruling and opposition parties are desperate in their bids to win the elections whatever it takes, raising serious concern over their possible attempts to distort voters’ sentiment and choices. Before anything, the presidential office and the government should refrain from executing policy or acts that could potentially affect the outcome of the elections. Pork-barreling policy measures that could be suspected as vote-buying attempt could spawn dispute over fairness, and the ramifications will negatively affect the unity of the public’s opinions. Voters are demanding fairer management of the elections all the more in the wake of suspicions over the government’s alleged influence-pedaling in the election of the Ulsan Mayor in the last local elections.
The main opposition parties should also use the ‘positive’ strategy of presenting rational policy alternatives and vision. If the parties fail to give up their short-term interests and existing privileges, remain divided into different factions and parties, and thereby leave voters split, they will be punished and held historically responsible. If the opposition remains complacent just as in the past by only betting their fate on the government and ruling party’s mistakes and failures, the elections could instantly become ‘judgment against the opposition,’ rather than ‘judgment against those in the power.’
The outcome of the elections will depend on how political parties will realize the spirit of our era, while going beyond the practice of political engineering. Political forces who successfully grasped the sentiment of majority voters would dominate in past elections. On the other hand, those who were complacent with their privileges were ruthlessly judged by the voters. The upcoming elections will be a prelude to the presidential election that is only two years away. As such, political parties have no choice but make bet on reform in their candidate nomination and changes. Voters should be cool-minded and carefully examine and determine which political forces have the capability to guide the Republic of Korea’s future into the right direction.