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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 11)

All News 07:01 April 11, 2016

2 big election losers
Foreign, immigration debates sorely missing in campaigning

Even before voters cast their ballots in the April 13 parliamentary general election, two losers have already been decided. Neither includes voters, who, with a sense of cynicism, are bound to lose irrespective of whoever wins or President Park Geun-hye as a lame duck president.

Rather, the two are key issues that can influence the future of the nation: immigration and foreign policy issues. Neither the ruling Saenuri Party or the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) have paid much attention to these issues, with few candidates focusing their campaign on them.

The Saenuri Party decided not to designate an immigrant candidate for this election. In the outgoing 19th term of the National Assembly, the ruling party designated Jasmine Lee, a Filipina immigrant, as a non-elected lawmaker under the proportional representation system. Lee devoted herself as a representative of the growing immigrant communities to pertinent legislative initiatives.

Although how successful she has been is an open question, the symbolism she carried was one that fit Korea's changing cultural dynamism that is becoming increasingly multiracial. Currently, the population of foreign residents has passed the 1 million mark with interracial marriages becoming such a common affair that the children from such marital unions are hard to miss in classrooms.

Already, Korea is riding on a stiff aging curve on the path toward thinning the ranks of the working-age, young population that can only be replaced by embracing immigrants. The lack of a representative in the National Assembly who can stand for them is a mistake by the ruling party, and won't help in the nation's transition to a diverse society.

The second loser is foreign policy. Debates about this have been hard to find at the party level or among candidates. Even more surprising is that North Korea, which has recently been raising tensions by threatening to turn Cheong Wa Dae into a sea of fire and do physical harm to President Park Geun-hye in the aftermath of ever-tougher U.N. sanctions for the North's nuclear and long-range missile tests in the space of one month this year, is glaringly absent.

On a large scale, Seoul has been caught between China and the United States over whether to deploy the U.S.-made missile interceptor or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on its soil despite Beijing's strong opposition. Among related issues are the future of the Seoul-Beijing relationship after the North Korea issue is settled; the future ROK-U.S. alliance; and Japan's remilitarization challenge. The failure to make a campaign issue out of these is also a mistake by the parties.

Parties have focused their campaigns on economic issues such as quantitative easing, or an easy money policy, and bread-and-butter issues such as minimum wages; and they have failed to provide discernible policy differences that only increase voter confusion and apathy.

The policy mish-mash is also "personalizing" the election that encourages the voters to cast their ballot for candidates who share hometowns with them or are tied by alma maters.

It is true that the parliamentary elections are not like presidential elections as the first are more focused on domestic issues than the second. By sticking to the past pattern, concern is rising that they won't be any better than their predecessors in the outgoing term of the National Assembly, which has been criticized for doing the worst job in the parliament's history. A total of 253 elected Assemblymen, together with 47 proportionally selected, will represent their constituencies and parties not only to deal with issues that are related to domestic politics but also regarding national issues.

Therefore, it is natural that they should disclose their views on these big issues so voters may pass their judgment on them as well. Now it looks too late for that and the nation will likely pay for the lawmakers' unproven qualities.


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