Last December, the election for the next General Student Association (GSA) was held from Dec. 1 to Dec. 2 in Seoul Campus. At each college, every student was able to vote for both the GSA and General Female Student Association (GFSA). According to the student constitution, the only thing that voters are required to do is to bring something to identify oneself, such as student ID card. However, due to the low voting rate from the Hanyangians, there is no GSA currently in charge.
This certain situation has not been the first time in Hanyang University (HYU). Same situation had happened during the election for the GSA of 2009. Due to the empty position of GSA, the election had to be held again. Therefore, the by-election was held during March.
Why did HYU have to go through the same situations in a row. Where does this problem come from? It is due to the lack of participation of the voters in the elections. Though, this is not only a problem of HYU. Korea is also suffering from the same problem.
Voting is an act of selecting the representative of a group in democratic country. Therefore, in many countries including Korea, have fought for a long time to gain the right to vote. In Korea, the presidential and assembly election is normally considered as a direct vote which all of the Koreans are involved in the action of vote. However, looking back into the history of Korea, the first presidential election was exercised as an indirect suffrage. It was held on July 20, 1948 and Rhee Syngman was elected by 92.3 percentage of approval which is 183 votes out of 197 assemblymen.
After the first presidential election, it had changed into direct voting system until the seventh presidential election. The voting rate had been over 85 percent. However, after the military force had won over the politics, voting has not been a right and duty as it is today. It was more similar to involuntary vote. After the voting system being turned into indirect suffrage once again, Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan had served as the president of Korea for more than once by using their political power and drew out high voting rate.
In 1987 Koreans were finally able to claim back the right to vote and became able to choose the candidate that each one really wants. Behind this fight to win back the right to vote, there lies the death and bloods of university students. Back then, university students did not want the military force to control over the country. They thought it was unreasonable so they stepped forward by fighting against the government.
Korea is not the only country which gained the right to vote roughly. Throughout the history of the world, there had been lots of struggles around the right to vote. In the Western society, it was banned for women to vote. Only adult men were able to exercise the right. Also, it was banned for the slaves to vote since slaves were only treated as one of the properties. However, in United States, 1870, black men were able to vote thanks to the revised constitutional law. Article 15 says that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Then in 1920, the revised constitutional law added new article which secures women? right to vote.
People understand the importance and the meaning of voting. "I believe the right to vote is very important. In the past, the awareness of voting was different from today. I used to be indifferent of voting. However, after being interested in election, I realized how important voting is. If I support certain candidate and want that candidate's pledge to be real, I have to vote in order to make that pledge come true. People who do not exercise one? right are only being pushed and pulled by literally anybody,"said Han Guk-in, a Sophomore of Department of English Language and Literature.
However, the voting rate of Korea is decreasing steadily. The last 17th presidential election showed only 62.9 percent of voting rate. This is about ten percent lower than the prior presidential election. The assembly election is worse. The 18th assembly election showed less than 50 percent of voting rate.
This certain situation also exists within the campus. According to the data of the previous five years?GSA election of Seoul Campus, the voting rate has never exceeded 55 percent. Also, if there were two candidates in 2005 and 2006, there was only one candidate in 2007 and 2008 each. Moreover, on the election for the GSA of 2009, there were no candidates that the election had to be postponed until March, 2009.
Since students are not interested in what GSA does or GSA's reason to exist, there are less and less candidates,?said Jung Kyung-jun, Chairman of Executive Committee of Central Steering Committee in Seoul Campus. The Executive Committee is currently replacing the place of GSA and conveys the substantial works which GSA originally should have done such as printing newsletters for Hanyangians or solving tuition fee problems.
According to the survey result, more than 50 percent of Hanyangians answered that the public has lost their faith in politicians and lead to the low voting rate of Korea. "I did not vote for the last election because I think whoever is elected, there would be no benefit for me. In my hometown, there are a lot of researches being held for the upcoming local election. But I have seen many people who do not participate in the research. They consistently say that they do not care whoever is elected because no matter who, absurdity and bribery will exist,"said Lee Joo-young, Junior of School of Business.
The second highest answer was the indifference of public toward politics. As the society requires more skills and ability from the university students, students have no time to concentrate on what is happening in the real society or even on campus. Hanyangians who did not vote for the last election for GSA and GFSA replied most to the answer that they did not vote because they are not interested in what GSA do. "I think the biggest reason for the low voting rate is that students do not think it is something directly related to them,"said Kim Kwang-soo, Chairman of Central Steering Committee (CSC) at HYU.
"Many students say they are busy. I understand that. They have to study other languages, maintain good grade points, and do extra works to be employed after graduation. Among those schedules, they even have to date. When I ask these busy students to participate in assemblies, they would reply, Are they legal assemblies? If not, why are you carrying out illegal assemblies? However, in fact, none of the 3·1, 4·19, 5·18, or 6·10 protests were legal,"said Kim Yong-min in his contribution article, who is the previous professor of HYU but now laid off from his position. "The reason why students are indifferent to what GSA do is because of both executives not working hard enough and students indifference to claiming their right and duty to vote,"said Jung Kyung-jun.
Some Hanyangians responded that the advertisement for the election was insufficient. Kim In-mo, the last election candidate, said, "I think the advertisement for the election was insufficient. One of my professors said that if customer says it is not enough, it is not enough. So if the voters felt lack of advertisement, I agree with them. I acknowledge the fact my members and I could not meet all voters' expectation. However, I have done my best in spite of the lack of manpower. The reason why the students are indifferent of politics is various. Some insist that the reason comes from the older generation. The older generation who protested against the dictatorship in 70? and 80? of Korea, want that memory to only be remained as reminiscence of youth. They do not want their kids to repeat what they have done in the past. In that kind of mind, they taught their kids not to repeat their history," said Ryou Han-lim who is the administrator of Anti MB for Impeachment site, now managing more than 157,000.
In the 17th presidential election, 62 percent of the citizens who were legally able to vote voted. And among the 62 percent of the citizens, Lee gained about 50 percent of the votes and became the 17th President. President Lee Myung-bak was elected through this election and both before and after his inauguration, he had many opposition parties from the public. Right before his election, there was the BBK scandal.
When Lee lost his position as a politician because he had violated the election rules, he went over to the United States. In the United States, he established a company called BBK with some of his colleagues. However, during the election campaign period, the fact that BBK had forged stocks was brought up. The citizens got upset at the fact that a person who is currently a candidate of presidential election to have done something unethical.
At first, Lee asserted his innocence by insisting he did never owned nor was involved in any way with the company. But a video clip which Lee said that he have established BBK himself, was found, along with few other evidences. Although many people had thought of him as guilty, the court declared Lee as innocent. Few days later, at the 17th presidential election, Lee Myung-bak was elected as the 17th President of South Korea.
Since his inauguration, the approval rate has been falling steadily. In 2008, the first year of his regime, the opposing opinions reached its peak, and the citizens roared out on the streets to express their concerns. The main reason for the citizens to be poured out onto the streets was because of the KORUS FTA. The citizens mainly expressed their opinions through candle light vigils, but the government was harsh on its people. The police force used excessive force to put citizens under control. This raised the opposing voices even higher.
Lee, in his campaign pledges, he had asserted that he would reduce the college enrollment fees by half. However that pledge has not been carried out, but has changed into the Study Now, Pay Later policy. The Study Now, Pay Later policy seems like a good one by hearing its name, but, looking deeply into it, it is full of flaws. The interest for the loan is very high and the interest keeps on increasing while students are absence for military or other reasons. After the declaration of Study Now, Pay Later policy, as the citizens were unsatisfied, the President has said, "If tuition fees are too low, the quality of college education would have to be degraded."
The administrator of Anti MB for Impeachment site, said, "This website is created from the opinion that the result of the presidential election is wrong and to change it legally. I think December 2007 is the most disgraceful day throughout the history of Korea. First, a person with 14 criminal records became the president and Lee has made this country worse by insisting the Grand Canal project, and dominating mass media."
The Inconvenient Truth
President Lee Myun-bak has been showing disappointment to the citizens in his policies. However, taking a look into the crowds on the streets, most of them were those who did not actually vote at the presidential election. They insisted that they did not vote because they do not trust politicians. However, a nation is made by all of the people, not only by the government. Then, is it justifiable that the public only blames the government for all of the difficulties in the country?
?he public cannot only blame the government for all of the government? policies. The government cannot meet all of the citizen? expectations. President is elected through voting. All of the people in Korea had the right to vote, but they did not vote. If they have not participated in the election, I think they do not deserve to criticize. If people do not like the current government, they should have voted in the first place,?said Kim Yang-jae, a student of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Many people online and offline, is blaming the president for the unsatisfying reality. The problems of candle light vigils, realizing pledges, and solving problems of university students?tuition fee are those realities. However, on the contrary, the voters who has designated the opportunity to vote caused the current problem. If they had exercised their right to the right person, or the person with the best pledges, the present situation of the voting rate of 62 percent might have not been caused.
Voting is considered as a measure of democracy. To achieve democracy, not only in Korea but also world wide, many people have fought and sacrificed themselves for it. Through those hardships, voting have become the right and duty of people living in all democratic countries. However, the current situation showed in Korean society is far from what past sacrifices expected. People are indifferent of politics and consider voting as something unrelated or valueless.
60.5 percent of Hanyangians thought the mindset of the citizens toward voting must be improved. "I got 48.9 percent of the vote from the Hanyangians in the last election which is 165 votes short from being elected. I applied as a candidate because after serving as Seoul, GSA in 2009, I found some parts that could be improved for both the school and Hanyangians. However, due to the lack of interest of Hayangians toward election, I guess the opportunity has passed. In the future, I want Hanyangians to think once more about the school and oneself and participate in raising the voting rate of HYU,"said Kang In-mo.
To raise the voting rate of HYU, the vote holders must have the mind that election is what we all make together, in the first place. Also, the procedures must be simple. I have seen some students who tried to vote but felt bothered to look up into the name-list for identification. Identifying through online or voting online and by cell phones can be another way to raise the voting rate,"said Kim Gwang-soo. Kim added, "The participation of the Hanyangians really helps to create clean GSA. GSA is not comprised only of the members but by the participation of all students." During late March or early April, the election for the GSA of 2010 is going to be held. Also, on June 2, the fifth local election is scheduled. Many political parties have started election campaigns to gain more votes. Voting is what makes the country and voting is the most direct and active way to participate in politics. Now, is the time for everyone to vote.
Compulsory Voting System of the World: Would It Work for Korea?
By Baek Seung-won
In most democratic countries, many people consider voting as a guaranteed right of being a citizen. However, many citizens in Korea are refusing to exercise their duty. In other countries around the world, the government has made it compulsory for the people to vote. The countries with compulsory voting system show high voting rate which is about 80 percent in average. In the countries which have the compulsory voting system, there are sanctions if the citizens do not vote. There are about 28 countries which carry out this system, and in those countries there may be four kinds of sanctions for the non-voters. First, all the non-voters have to provide an explanation for his/her abstention to avoid further sanctions, if any exist. And further sanctions may appear punishment in forms of fines, possible imprisonment, and infringement of their civil rights or disenfranchisement.
A fine is probably the most common and lightest sanction for the non-voters within the compulsory voting system countries. The amount varies between the countries, from only three Swiss Francs (3,000 won) in Switzerland to between 300 and 3,000 ATS (30,000 won to 300,000 won) in Austria, and 25 to 55 AUD (25,000 won to 56,000 won) and so on.
Also, there could be the possibility of imprisonment. The non-voter may face imprisonment as a sanction; however, there are no documented cases so far. This can also happen in countries such as Australia where a fine type of sanction is common. In cases where the non-voter does not pay the fines after being reminded or after refusing several times, the courts may impose a prison sentence. However, this is usually classified as imprisonment for failure to pay the fine, not imprisonment for failure to vote.
The last form of sanction is the infringement of civil rights or disenfranchisement. It is, for example, possible that the non-voter - after not voting in at least four elections within 15 years - will be disenfranchised in Belgium. In Peru, the voter has to carry a stamped voting card for a number of months after the election as a proof of having voted. This stamp is required in order to obtain some services and goods from some public offices. In Singapore, the voter is removed from the voter register until he/she reapplies to be included and submits a legitimate reason for not having voted. In Bolivia, the voter is given a card when he/she has voted so that he/she can have proof of their participation. The voter would not be able to receive his/her salary from the bank if he/she can not show the proof of voting during the three months after the election.
Other forms of sanctions may be things like: in Belgium it might be difficult to get a job within the public sector for the a non-voters. There are no formal sanctions in Mexico or Italy but arbitrary or social sanctions are possible. This is called the ?nnocuous sanction?in Italy, where it might, for example, be difficult to get a daycare place for the child of a non-voter or similar things for the non-voters?family but this is not formalized in any way at all.
The question this raises is whether such a system would be good or bad in Korea to combat the low voter turnouts. It remains to be seen whether such a system will be needed and how non-voters would be punished if at all.