Updated May. 07, 2014 05:21
After the long holidays, the nation is only 28 days ahead of the local elections taking place on June 4. However, the public opinions seem still unpredictable. Experts say in unison that the local elections are in utter darkness because it is hard to assess the current situation and predict a decisive factor. Besides, the public has little interest in the coming elections.
Certainly, the follow-up measures and reshuffling expected to be announced by President Park Geun-hye in the middle of this month will have huge impact on the local elections. Both the ruling and opposition parties are paying keen attention to how the so-called Park Geun-hye factor will affect their races in June.
○ Increasing swing voters
The Sewol ferry disaster is an unfavorable factor for the ruling Saenuri Party. However, it is hard to predict how much impact it will have on the elections. According to some opinion polls conducted of citizens living in the Seoul metropolitan area during the holidays, the approval ratings for Saenuri Party candidates have decreased. And in simulation races for the Seoul mayors and Incheon mayors elections, Park Won-soon and Song Young-gil, the incumbent mayors affiliated with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, have exceeded their rivals.
What is interesting is that the approval ratings not only for the president, the Saenuri Party and its candidates but also for the NPAD candidates have declined at the same time. This means that a number of voters who have turned against the ruling party remain as swing voters rather than supporting the opposition.
In addition, large-scale disasters like the ferry accident cannot be a strong motivation to punish only the ruling party and the government, compared with factors such as corruptions directly related to the ruling partys candidate nomination. Rather, the publics criticisms against the inability of the overall political circle tend to grow.
Experts say it is unpredictable whether the swing voters will support the ruling party again, punish the government by voting against the ruling party or just give up voting. Bae Jong-chan, a director of R&R, a research company in Korea, said that the situation in the Seoul metropolitan area, which was in favor of the ruling party before the Sewol ferry accident, is now neck and neck and the key for the ruling party is to regain the swing voters while for the opposition, it is about whether they can unite under the leadership of co-chairman Ahn Cheol-soo as an alternative for the ruling party.
○ President Park has the key
The Sewol ferry disaster has driven all other political issues out of the table at once. This reminds us of the sinking of Cheonan warship that occurred only two months ahead of the local elections four years ago.
The confrontation between the ruling and opposition is not as clear, and no remarkable campaign pledges are seen. Candidates push out only safety-related pledges. In the Saenuri Partys Seoul mayor primary election, candidates only criticize one another based on rivals past remarks or records rather than competing with full strength based on election pledges. Competitive election campaigns may be hard to be seen during the upcoming local elections because peoples mourning for the Sewol ferry victims will continue through June 4.
In the end, the elections are likely to be about President Park. The president is expected to offer an apology to the nation probably before May 15, the candidate registration date, or no later than May 22 when the official election campaign period begins, and announce measures to reform the nation.
Will the president comes up with strong follow-up measures that exceed the peoples expectation or will she just announce some makeshift measures to show off? This will determine the direction of swing voters.
○ It is all about safety
When the floor leader is elected on Thursday, the Saenuri Party will form a contingency committee as well as an election campaign committee. The party says it will develop safety-related measures in line with the presidents follow-up measures as a responsible ruling party. The party also considers launching a task force about developing safety measures and eliminating the so-called bureaucratic mafia (public offices in collusion with related industries) under the election campaign committee. In addition, to promote its reformative image in the elections, the party plans to use its relatively young candidates, those in early or mid-50s, such as Kwon Young-jin (Daegu), Won Hee-ryong (Jeju) and Nam Kyung-pil (Gyeonggi).
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, on the other hand, has set up a strategy to continue to push for a thorough investigation into the ferry accident and develop safety measures through the local elections. Also, the party considers holding a special committee for the inspection of government and public hearings at the parliamentary level, requiring special prosecution and launching a special committee on the peoples safety for the fundamental resolution of safety issues.