[Editorial] Reforms to encourage voter turnout

Posted on : 2011-10-24 11:27 KST Modified on : 2011-10-24 11:27 KST

According to an analysis of social indicators released this past April by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea ranked dead last among the 34 member nations in its voter turnout for parliamentary elections. The 46% rate recorded for the 2008 general elections was roughly half the rates observed in the top three countries: 95% in Australia, 92% in Luxembourg, and 91% in Belgium. It was also far lower than the 70% average for member nations as a whole. Germany recorded a rate of 78%, Japan 67%, the United Kingdom 61%, and the United States 48%.
There is a tendency among South Koreans to view interest in politics as a sign of backwardness and to make it the target of cynical derision. The OECD figures show that such thinking lacks sufficient basis. There is no doubt at all that making voices heard through active participation in elections is the duty of citizens in an advanced society. An election is an opportunity to debate and choose the direction for affairs in the local community and the country. Participation is also essential to demand corrections to a mistaken political approach. While the camps of the different candidates may debate the pros and cons of a higher voting rate, this is not something that society as a whole should be keeping in mind.
The problem is that many people are unable to participate because a by-election is not an official holiday from work. It is not easy for working people to organize their schedules to allow voting between 6 in the morning and 8 in the evening. The average voter turnout for the seven by-elections held since the start of the 18th National Assembly in 2008 has been just 33.6%. Voting conditions are likely to have been one factor in this drop in the voting rate.
At a press conference a few days ago, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), and Voter Freedom network called for a guarantee of two hours’ paid leave at workplaces to ensure that workers could vote in the by-election Wednesday. They also sent notices to business groups asking for adjustments in work arrival and departure hours, paid leave for voting, and a moratorium on overtime on election day. These demands are both welcome and entirely reasonable. The Labor Standards Act also stipulates that worker requests for the necessary time to exercise voting rights are not to be turned down. It is a mistake that people have not exercised this right to date out of ignorance. This is an issue that needs to be raised by the different unions at emergency labor-management bargaining for their workplaces.
We also urge companies to lend their active cooperation. A higher voting rate will result in a greater level of democracy. A forward-thinking approach is also needed in terms of putting corporate social responsibility into practice.
Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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