Today I am sitting in my apartment in South Korea watching and waiting for the results of an election that gives me flashbacks to the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. Both candidates have run on very conservative platforms, and controversy has followed their every step in the process. The 2022 Korean presidential election is no different than the past two US presidential elections. Between people lying on their resumes, sex scandals/roomers, and one of the candidates being under investigation for leaking classified information to an unregistered Shaman, I shit you not. After reading the major two candidate’s platforms, I share the opinion with many younger Koreans that both candidates will be a step back for Korea. One of the many reasons why is that neither candidate has verbally supported the passing of Korea’s first anti-discrimination law(s).
I don’t imagine that every election in Korea is controversy-ridden or downright depressing. Still, it has been interesting as an immigrant to watch an election that will possibly affect their future. Here are a few things I learned about elections in Korea.
- Election Day is a national holiday. Most Koreans feel that it’s their duty to vote, which is reinforced by the government making voting a national holiday and opening up a few days for early voting.
- Presidential terms last 5 years. You can only be voted in once.
- Korea has a two-party system (the democratic party and the Peoples Power Party); debates are only with the two major candidates even though many other political parties have been developed over the years. This election is historical because a ruling was passed after a lawsuit allowed the top four parties to participate. Also, there seems to be only one official debate for the election.
- Grassroot campaign tactics are essential. Two weeks before voting starts which is three weeks to election day, is when Candidates can start campaigning outside of major rallies. Overnight it felt like Korea became deeply invested in the election with posters of every candidate’s slogan and number on the ballet plastering every wall around the town. Then these trucks with TVs and sometimes people were driving around town blaring the candidate’s speeches and with someone yelling out to vote for their candidate while mudslinging the opposition. During breaks, these trucks would play music. No, they don’t play patriotic music, but bumping and grinding club music about drinking too much soju.
When not on the road, these trucks would stop near popular drinking spots and traditional markets and have a group of people shouting, dancing, and holding sings around them.
I talked to one of my friends about how bazaar and propagandist it feels (again, I was having bad flashbacks to the individual who ran Trump parades in town and one in particular who was traveling the country with a “Freedom Bridge” on his truck. Come to find out, he was committing fraud with the donations). My friend Talked about how that’s also really common in Mexico. That’s when I realized how vital grassroots campaigns are for candidates in many countries.
In Korea, many people, especially the elderly, are impoverished with limited access to the internet. The only way to ensure your message reaches everyone is by having trucks driving around town and stopping at markets.
5. Politics and elections are the same all over. Filled with mudslinging, weird promises like adding hair loss to medical coverage, and controversy, this election in Korea feels no different from those in the US. Which I’m not sure if it’s comforting or disconcerting.
Right now, I would say disconcerting. This election has shown me how much Nationalism and extreme conservative beliefs are rising. Unfortunately, with extreme conservative beliefs comes the repeal of anti-discrimination laws, which leads to fewer protections for women, immigrants, and the LGTBQ+ community. Another worrisome political move that happens when there are people with extreme political leanings in the office, including restricting press freedom. In this presidential election in Korea, the opposing party, Peoples Power Party, candidates’ wife, has already threatened to arrest a journalist for releasing recordings of an interview she gave with her consent.
The repeal of laws protecting people’s rights usually leads to a widening gap between the wealthy and the poor and the gap between those in power and those who are not, making it harder to move up in society. In the end, it leads to the oppression of the majority of the people, which is why people around the world are hypercritical of US politics. They keep track of everything that goes on because it reflects the struggles in their own country and a glimpse of what the future holds. Many democracies, including Korea, look to the US because if the US fails, they believe their country will too.
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