|Local election campaign in Osan, Gyeonggi-do. June 2010.|
On Wednesday, April 11, 2012 South Korea held a legislative election, a precursor to the upcoming presidential election taking place December 2012. So while this blog will talk about that election, if you want to learn about Korean political parties, or the electoral system, or about the Korean constitution, you're in the wrong place. I'm here to tell you about a different kind of political party - the splashy, heart-pounding, music-blaring, foot-stompin' party that is the Korean election campaign.
I'd only been here a few months when I saw my first election campaign in June 2010. It was the local election, but despite its small reach, the election's big heart was unmistakable. I was blown away. Never had I felt so foreign, delighted, and puzzled all at once. The campaigns were so phenomenally different from what I'd experienced at home in Canada. I asked my expatriate friends, "What are elections like back home?" The singular answer from Americans, Australians, Kiwis, Brits, Irish, and South Africans came back. "Not like this," they replied.
|Campaign rally in Busan, April 2012|
The Korean election campaign is about two weeks of attention-grabbing, K-Pop dancing, neon-light-flashing madness. It's twenty-somethings in sweatshirts, clapping and dancing. It's elderly women in visors, singing on the backs of campaign trucks. It's lights, bells, sirens, loudspeakers, and banners. It's giant inflatable dolls made to resemble the electoral candidate. It's non-stop, no-holds-barred FUN.
|Campaign truck complete with TV, sound system, and dancers|
cruises through the streets of Gimcheon in Gyeongbuk-do
The election campaigns are everywhere you go. Campaign workers dressed in party colours wave to you on the sidewalk. They hold signs, and wear banners and ball caps emblazoned with the party logo. Sometimes they even sport light-up sandwich boards! They shout, clap, and thank you from street corners, truck beds, rooftops, and megaphones. In Canada, I'd occasionally forget that an election was nearing until I passed an campaign sign staked on someone's front yard. Not so in South Korea. Starting from 8 AM until well after dinner, trucks with loudspeakers drive up and down the busiest of streets and the narrowest of alleys, blaring traditional tunes, or tailor-made musical jingles. Some trucks are outfitted with TV screens or dancers, or even both! Tents and big-screen projections can often be found city-centre, manned by a team of smiling, bowing supporters, passing out pamphlets and small gifts with the candidate's face stamped onto the packaging.
|The election campaigns truly are everywhere, even if it's... nowhere. |
Supporters wait to greet passersby in rural Gijang.
Rallies are held in parks and outside city halls, complete with speeches and entertaining performances. Voters come out in droves to support their chosen party, even in the nastiest of weather conditions. Walking to the train station in the rain last week, I was surprised to find workers from three parties dressed in rain ponchos waving and bowing to me, and thanking me with a smile. With so much activity, it's very difficult to ignore election campaigns. I can't even vote in Korea and I know the names and faces of the four candidates in my riding, thanks to sheer perseverance on the part of their workers and supporters!
|A campaign rally in Busan attracts supporters, despite rainy weather|
|Campaign workers wave to motorists in Busan|
So while I resent the elections for waking me up so early on Saturday mornings with their unwanted megaphone serenades, I admire them for their imagination. Never have elections been quite so intriguing and entertaining to me as they have been in South Korea. And with the conflicting political views that plague democracies worldwide, who couldn't use a little more entertainment? Tune in to Korea's presidential campaigns in December 2012, you're in for a treat.