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From antipathy toward hope

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By Shim Jae-yun

The presidential election is supposed to be full of hope as it is a "sacred" process of inaugurating a new head of state who will lead the nation for the next five years. Contrary to the expectation, however, the ongoing race is disappointing at large, having become a battleground among candidates with record displays of antipathy rather than empathy. Another disappointment is the waning of the nation's only progressive party with National Assembly seats ― the Justice Party.

For starters, the nation is seeing a rare phenomenon: an increasing number of undecided voters with less than two months left before the March 9 presidential election. People are voicing their distrust of the major presidential contenders. Many around me are wondering whether they can decide who to vote for until the poll day.

Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), has been the object of public cynicism for his apparent lack of morality as seen in his criminal record, profanity against his sister-in-law and purported irregularities in a major land development scandal in Daejang-dong, Seongnam City, Gyeonggi Province, plus his alleged extramarital affair with an actress.

Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party, has already become a target of disparagement regarding his "unsuitability" as a future national leader with his frequent verbal gaffes, and dearth of philosophy and vision on major state agendas, coupled with a package of irrationalities surrounding his wife and mother-in-law which has further deepened the public's distrust.

According to a survey conducted Jan. 3 to 5 by Embrain Public and Korea Research on 1,000 adults across the nation, 65 percent of participants indicated antipathy toward Yoon, followed by Lee and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party who recorded 56 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

Another poll also conducted by Embrain showed 41.9 percent of the respondents saying they have yet to decide who to vote for. The poll, conducted on Dec. 26 to 27, found that 30.1 percent were ready to change their choice of candidate depending on the shifting situation. Given this, it is safe to say the current support rates are apt to change and lack particular meaning. Many experts share the notion that such swing voters will continue to remain a significant factor in the lead-up to the election.

Another disappointing point is the waning of the Justice Party. On Monday, I had a tea meeting with Sim Sang-jung, presidential candidate of the progressive party, along with several associates at her campaign office in Yeouido. She candidly revealed her opinion on a diverse range of pending issues in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Sim expressed frustration over her party's staggering performance in the ongoing race. Now the iron lady representing the progressive camp is lagging at fourth place behind Ahn.

Sim cited two major factors that she said had dealt severe blows to the party's image as the nation's representative progressive party. First up, the sexual harassment of a female lawmaker by former party head Kim Jong-cheol. "It virtually crushed the party," she said. It was all the more perplexing for Sim as she said she had regarded Kim as her successor. It was fatal to the party's identity as the icon of progressive forces on behalf of social minorities including women.

Yet another major impact has come since the party backed the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) in defending former Justice Minister Cho Kuk despite the misdeeds of his daughter and wife. This led the party to be dubbed the "second company" of the DPK, causing droves of its followers to break away, particularly young people who were sick of the Moon Jae-in administration's notoriously hypocritical "naeronambul" (I am right and you are wrong) practices.

Initiating major issues such as labor, welfare, environment, gender and minorities, the Justice Party has been a backbone of the nation's progressive sector. "For instance, it is deplorable that none of the candidates has ever raised the significant issue of climate change," Sim said.

Now it is high time for all candidates, including Sim, to reflect on themselves and shift their stance to engage through in-depth and earnest debate on major points of the national agenda instead of resorting to negative and populist campaigning. This is the only way for them to turn this from an "election of antipathy" to an "election of expectation," and bring a glimmer of hope against the darkness of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The author ( is an editorial writer of The Korea Times.

Shim Jae-yun

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