South Korea’s recent general elections have been about “riding the wave of approval” for President Moon Jae-in’s administration for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the country, said Singapore Democratic Party GE2011 candidate James Gomez.
Dr Gomez in a statement on Sun (19 Apr) questioned if the outcome of South Korea’s recent election might be the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP)’s “opportunistic moment” to garner overwhelming support from the electorate in Singapore.
Nikkei Asian Review previously cited analysts’ opinions that the South Korean government’s management of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country has overshadowed other major problems the nation is grappling with, such as “failed economic policies, corruption scandals, and the lack of a breakthrough in talks with North Korea”.
“It remains to be seen how these other challenges are expected to be addressed post-elections amidst a global economic downturn,” Dr Gomez opined.
For Singapore, certain pertinent questions similarly remain, namely those regarding how well PAP has fared in handling both the COVID-19 situation to date and “bread and butter” issues such as adequate wages, lowering the high cost of living and housing, and reducing population density.
“Do Singaporean voters want effective checks and balances?” He added.
President Moon’s administration’s “coronavirus diplomacy” augmented confidence of S. Koreans during recent elections
President Moon’s Democratic Party secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly after a voter turnout of 66.2 per cent, which is the highest in South Korea’s parliamentary election history since 1992.
South Korea uses a mix of first-past-the-post seats and proportional representation, and Moon’s Democratic party had won 163 constituencies in the 300-member National Assembly.
Dr Gomez noted that public opinion “shifted towards the Democratic Party” as the COVID-19 situation stabilised in South Korea.
Minseon Ku, a politics scholar at Ohio State University in the United States, similarly told AFP that President Moon’s administration’s “coronavirus diplomacy” — which saw recent bilateral phone calls with at least 20 state leaders — had augmented the confidence of South Koreans in casting their ballots for the Democratic Party.
The president’s successful framing of the pandemic as an “opportunity for South Korea to restructure its economy — capitalising on industries like AI and biopharma” — paired with South Korea’s “global recognition” for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak has “sat well with voters”, she added.
Even during the voting period, the South Korean government’s effective management of the pandemic garnered the trust of many voters as over 3,000 South Koreans with mild COVID-19 symptoms under treatment, as well as 900 medical personnel at treatment centres in Seoul and Daegu, were given the opportunity to cast their votes early on 10 Apr.
In the southern city of Gyeongju, voters stood at least one metre apart from one another while wearing protective masks and disposable plastic coats. They were also required to don plastic gloves after having sanitised their hands, AFP reported.
Officials did away with fingerprint checks as voters were wearing plastic gloves. Instead, machines were used to conduct face identification.
Yonhap News Agency reported that voters underwent temperature checks. Some officials were also seen wearing plexiglass covering most of their faces as an enhanced safety measure, Yonhap added.
S’pore’s “discretion-based model” frequently used to “maintain or increase the majority of the party in power”: SDP’s James Gomez
Dr Gomez highlighted that the date of the legislative elections in South Korea is fixed in accordance with Article 34 of the Public Official Election Act which stipulates that the elections should fall on “the first Wednesday from the 50th day before the expiration of the National Assembly members term of office”.
“In February, when there were massive outbreaks, there was a debate whether the elections should be postponed … Following the debate, the elections proceeded as scheduled,” he added.
On 13 March, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) released the review boundaries which would indicate an election within one or two months as per past election trends and more recently, the announcement of the tabling of a Bill in Parliament this week — which sets out contingency plans to ensure a safe election during the COVID-19 pandemic — spurs more speculations that the ruling party intends to hold an election soon.
Noting that the Prime Minister in essence “has the power to dissolve parliament any time before the five-year period to call an election”, Dr Gomez said that the “discretion-based model”, in contrast with a fixed-date model such as that of South Korea’s National Assembly, “is often utilised to benefit from a political opportunity to maintain or increase the majority of the party in power”.
TOC earlier this month reported receiving several tip-offs that the Elections Department (ELD), which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, is in fact already preparing for an election in May or Jun, based on job advertisements relating to elections preparations on various job-seeking platforms. ELD, however, said these are just routine preparation work conducted by its contractors which they do annually.
Previously, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 27 Mar told reporters in a doorstop interview at the Istana that Singapore has to “weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term”.
“I would not rule any possibility out,” he added.