Hearts over heads

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 April, 2004, 12:00am

Next week's legislative election seems like a repetition of the country's 2002 presidential poll. Admittedly, this time, 299 national lawmakers will be chosen for the next four years, but somehow their election has become a confidence vote for President Roh Moo-hyun's leadership.

It is unavoidable, given that Mr Roh's powers were suspended last month after the National Assembly voted to impeach him on charges of election law violation and corruption. He will be out of a job permanently unless the Constitutional Court overrules the vote in the next five months.

Almost everyone has become preoccupied with this unprecedented process and wants to use Thursday's parliamentary election to judge whether the impeachment decision was right or wrong. The election has become a national referendum on whether Mr Roh should return.

And the people are sharply divided over that. Those who support the president are determined to punish opposition parties and their candidates. And those who dislike Mr Roh are naturally eager to throw out the ruling-party candidates.

Immediately after the impeachment vote, the public was highly critical of opposition members who spearheaded the move. That translated into massive support for the pro-government Uri Party. And understandably, that has helped its candidates across the nation. Currently the third party, with about 15 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly, it is expected to emerge as the largest.

But in the process, South Koreans could be missing something important. There are plenty of signs that voters have made up their minds without looking at whether a particular candidate is qualified for the job. In other words, voters are about to cast their ballots based on emotions, not rational judgments.

But these lawmakers will be the ones who determine their future. If unqualified candidates are elected, that would be even more tragic for South Koreans than losing their president.

Party affiliation is important for any legislative election. But the policies and philosophies of individual candidates are equally important. Unfortunately, candidates are not promoting important issues such as North Korea's nuclear problem, or high unemployment, because the public is not interested.

Since 1987, when people power nearly brought down the dictatorial regime, South Korean democracy has come a long way. The country is seen by many in the global community as a young but dynamic democracy. To make it a more mature democracy, South Koreans need to use their common sense and logic, not emotions and feelings.