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[Opinion] Manifestos

Posted February. 02, 2006 06:04,   


Shigefume Matsuzawa, the 48-year-old governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, released a “manifesto” which unveiled concrete information on the priority, period and source of the funding of his election pledges in 2003 when he was an independent candidate for the post of governor. His manifesto included a plan to cut 1,500 administrative public officials during his four-year term, while increasing police officers by just as many and limiting the total amount of personnel expenses of public officials at 240 billion yen annually. In that election, 14 new candidates announced their manifestos and surprised the country by being elected as governors of seven prefectures, including Hokkaido, Iwate, and Fukui.

The backbone of a manifesto is its concreteness and verifiability. Matsuzawa concluded the content of his manifesto after being elected by forming a “special committee of comprehensive planning” after three rounds of deliberation by the prefecture parliament, and by having question-and-answer and discussion sessions that were as thorough as budget deliberations for five days. Voters could then decide whether to support the incumbent governor just by assessing the fulfillment of the manifesto.

The manifesto concept originated from the announcement of election pledges by the U.K. Conservative Party in 1835. Afterwards, U.K. political parties have released a 50-page manifesto one month prior to elections. In the country’s general elections in 1997, Tony Blair, then head of the Labor Party, introduced a manifesto that said the party would phase out the $180 million elite education system to reduce class sizes for five-to-seven year olds to less than 30 students per class. On the other hand, Korean political parties only released “comprehensive election pledges” that were short on substance during the 17th general election, such as “making Korea into a country in which people can live a secure life,” and promising a “leap toward becoming a G-7 country.”

In the run-up to the local elections on May 31, the “Committee for Manifesto Election,” which mainly consists of civic organizations and the academic community, was established yesterday. The goal of the committee is to drive an election focusing on policy by encouraging candidates to announce a manifesto and by validating that manifesto. Some might say that the committee is intervening in the elections. But one would hope that the committee could successfully prevent the “competition of election pledges” of the 2002 presidential election, in which political parties kept raising their economic growth promises, from happening again.

Lee Dong-kwan, Editorial Writer, dklee@donga.com