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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 26)

All News 06:57 October 26, 2021

Antipathy toward contenders
: Stop mudslinging and present better policy options

More and more people are found to have an unusually higher level of antipathy toward the leading presidential contenders of both ruling and opposition parties. This seems to reflect aggravating public disenchantment toward politics. The ongoing presidential race has already been tainted with a corruption-laden land development scandal, criminal allegations and verbal slips.

It is disappointing to see presidential contenders betray the people's expectations that the race will be held in a festive mood to elect the next president on March 9. They have so far failed to compete with each other by presenting their policies and visions for the future. Instead, they have been engaged in smear campaigns.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup Korea found that major presidential aspirants face growing cynicism and antipathy from the public, while receiving only about 30 percent support ratings. Only 32 percent of the respondents said they favor former Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung, a presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). However 60 percent said they felt unfavorable toward him.

Likewise, 31 percent of the respondents said they favor Rep. Hong Joon-pyo of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) while 60 percent have antipathy toward him. Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, also from the PPP, got 28 percent support with 62 percent reacting negatively to him. In previous presidential races, major presidential contenders usually enjoyed up to 50 percent support ratings. Regrettably, the current presidential campaign has become a race in which people's negative reactions overwhelm their positive responses to key contenders.

The poll also showed 25 percent of the respondents had no political party to support, up by 2 percentage points from two months earlier. Should such a negative sentiment persist, it will likely result in a nosediving voter turnout. It can also cause an increasing number of swing voters up until the last moment.

The presidential contenders themselves are to blame for this rare phenomenon. They have yet to explain the suspicions surrounding themselves. Lee has been at the center of a dispute over a controversial residential development project in Seongnam, south of Seoul. Yoo Dong-gyu, former acting president of Seongnam Development Corp., was indicted last week on bribery charges. Lee also faces allegations about his implication in the project which brought tremendous profits to private developers. Lee, a former Seongnam mayor, has come under criticism for causing a huge loss to the municipal government by refusing to include a clause to have excess development profits returned to city coffers.

Yoon of the PPP has also taken flak for making remarks favorable to former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan who seized power through a military coup starting in 1979. Worse, Yoon made a scornful apology shared with a picture of a man giving an apple to his pet, triggering a dispute over his qualifications for being president. Rep. Hong has also raised public eyebrows with his persistent negative campaigning, especially against Yoon.

Albeit belated, they should refrain from mudslinging and engage in competition for better policies on diverse pressing issues such as soaring housing prices, youth unemployment, aging society and widening wealth discrepancies. This is the only way for them to win back the minds of the people, especially swing voters.

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