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Shut the !&%# Up, Citizen, This Tinnitus is Democracy in Action

Today is (municipal) election day in Korea. For the last two months, the campaign law has been in effect, and this law, according to the Korea Times, forbids just about anything like politics:

Prohibited activities, beginning April 3, two months prior to the June 2 election, include conducting surveys with the names of certain parties and candidates, and political activities of incumbents that would affect the outcome of the elections.

Incumbents are also banned from promoting their party’s platforms, participating in events organized by their party except ceremonies for foundations, mergers and reorganization during the official campaign period.

It’s baffling that anything that might “affect the outcome of the elections” is banned, and this must, surely, be a poor translation or wording. I saw the candidates for the position of Mayor of Seoul on TV only a few weeks ago; I’m pretty sure it’d be illegal for me to post here what I thought of them — which ones seemed like Stepford Politicians ™ and which ones seemed a little more passable — but it’s also irrelevant… current events like a sunken submarine ship seem to have pushed things in one direction, and we can all guess which direction that is.

In any case, candidates have been involved in all kinds of activities that should affect the elections, such as blasting horrendous techno music and arranging for these sorts of displays of idiocy outside of subway stations all over Seoul:

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more speeches delivered from loudspeakers outside subway stations. So loud it physically hurts one’s ears. I was walking with a former student of mine, this young guy, and I noted that all of the candidates making this loud noise were more of a nuisance than last time around, and that they would never get away with the loud, blasting music and speeches in Canada.

“But… but how do they campaign in Canada?” he asked, incredulous.

“Considerately,” I replied with a grin. I explained that they could distribute leaflets, go door to door, hold town meetings, appear in TV commercials and talk shows, have their signs posted all over the place, and all kinds of things. But in Canada, we have (and enforce) noise pollution laws and if political candidates violated them, people would call the police and have the noisy vans towed away and/or their operators fined.

“Wow,” he said. And no wonder: according to this article in the Korea Times, even Koreans, who are used to being subjected to an onslaught of random noise in parts of town, have been complaining about the noisiness of the current election campaign… not to mention the pointlessness of campaign jingles and dancers offered in place of in-depth policy information.

Meanwhile, the election law also seems hellbent on preventing people from getting any real sense of the candidates: using Twitter as part of a campaign prior to 180 days before the election is forbidden. It was, apparently, a restriction intended to prevent rich people from taking advantage of the long lead-in to distribute materials. In the age of Social Networking, distributing information is free. Time to join planet earth in the 21st century, guys. (For Japan too, apparently.)

As for the outcome? I’m not optimistic. The person I would rather not win — one of two candidates mentioned in this piece — seems likelier to win, mostly because old people vote more than young people and because everything has been skewed by the sinking of the Cheonan.

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