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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on April 17)

All News 07:05 April 17, 2017

Moon-Ahn debate
Voters need to get info on leading candidates effectively given short campaign period

The official campaign began today after candidates completed their respective registrations for the presidential election, Saturday and Sunday.

The duration of the campaign is just 22 days, as the election is being held early due to the presidential impeachment. The next president will be elected on May 9 and take office the following day without a transition period.

The campaign is too short not only for candidates to pull out all the stops to win over voters, but for voters to grasp their traits and abilities as well.

According to a Gallup Korea poll released Friday, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party are leading the race with 40 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

They are trailed by Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party at 7 percent and Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party with 3 percent each.

With about three weeks left to vote, none of the five have published their presidential pledges yet. They have unveiled campaign promises only sporadically.

Some candidates have made promises that would cost hundreds of trillions of won to implement, without offering concrete ways to raise the funds. There is concern that voters may elect an undeserving leader due to the shortened campaign period.

Vetting candidates is crucial to select a competent leader. The nation has learned a lesson from the presidential impeachment that failure to filter out problem candidates may lead to chaos, conflict and a waste of national strength.

To know candidates' policies on national security and economy is particularly important, because they are directly related to the survival and livelihood of the nation. With tensions rising on the Korean Peninsula, the next president's leadership and response to North Korean threats could decide the future of the nation.

Considering the grave situation facing Korea, vetting of likely candidates as to their abilities to construct the right policies, communicate with the people and integrate the nation, as well as their morality and personality, should be wider and deeper than ever.

Ideally, vetting should be done by experts and the news media, but given the short campaign period, television debates will be among the most effective ways to compare candidates.

Negative campaigning and populist pledges are expected to run rampant as the nation draws closer to Election Day, which could raise the effectiveness of TV debates.

The first TV debate among the five nominees last week was of help to voters in weighing them up. Still, many viewers feel something is wanting.

Despite their heated debate, there was a shortage of in-depth discussion on policies. Candidates' opinions were fragmented and their debates often ended in an exchange of barbed words over minor issues.

Four TV debates are remaining, but five participants appears to be too many. Considering the voters' high expectations about candidates' qualifications and the short campaign period, an abridged debate is worth a try.

Debate hosts need to add discussion between the two leading candidates. They would face little complaints from other candidates if the minimum condition for participation was set to 15 percent support in polls. Under election law, a candidate is fully compensated by the government for his or her campaign expenses if he or she earns 15 percent or more of the vote.

Ahn has proposed a one-on-one debate with Moon, who has not yet accepted the notion. There appear to be few reasons to reject the debate.

The upcoming presidential election is significant in view of difficulties at home and abroad. Through a one-to-one debate, the two likely candidates need to detail their pledges and show their traits as potential president.

Rigorous vetting of likely candidates is the shortcut to prevent a wrong choice.

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