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Direct Elections for Educational Officials or Lottery?

Posted June. 02, 2010 18:34,   


The elections for superintendents of schools and education board members are known as “lottery elections” because the order of the candidate listing on ballots is determined by lottery, not by the order of their political parties.

Candidates lucky enough to have their names at the top of the ballot have cheered while those who found their names at the bottom have dropped out. The candidate processes are also nicknamed a “50 million won (40,700 U.S. dollar) lottery,” and a “three million won (2,400 dollar) lottery,” referring to the candidate registration fees of the corresponding amounts.

The posts are to be filled through a direct national vote for the first time, but voter attention to candidates for these posts are far weaker than that of mayors, governors or other officials of cities, wards and counties. Swing voters accounted for as much as 60 percent of registered voters up until the eve of the local elections.

Voter disinterest in the elections for superintendents of schools and educational board members had been largely predicted, mainly because of an election method that makes it difficult to recognize candidates without careful examination.

Candidates for such posts cannot be members of parties and must have at least five years of experience in education. Most of the candidates are former teachers, government officials in charge of education, and professors, and their public visibility inevitably lags behind that of politicians.

The purported “political neutrality" in education, a principle meant to ban parties from recommending candidates for superintendents and educational board members, has been loosely followed. Candidates with a conservative ideology have effectively joined forces with the ruling Grand National Party while liberals have teamed up with the main opposition Democratic Party.

In Seoul, the ruling party fueled controversy by reportedly supporting a candidate.

For this reason, experts suggest measures to revise the direct election of school superintendents, including the introduction of a running mate system with candidates for city mayors or provincial governors.

Seoul National University professor Shin Jong-ho said, “Rather than pointing fingers at the ineffectiveness of the direct vote system even before it has taken root, we must pay more attention to how to institutionalize the system based on public participation.”