Seeing the democratic process in action is often viewed with contempt in America. Honestly how many of us enjoy the endless parade of election ads? How many of enjoy the constant slandering, mud slinging, and bold-faced lies that are told to us on a hourly basis during election years? Maybe, just maybe, there is something that can be learned from the course of elections in a small Korean city. Seosan, by American standards is a large city of nearly 200,000 people. However, by Korean standards, this city is small. It is the equivalent of living in a town of 30,000 people in rural Kentucky. Yes, it's the big town in the area, but man there is not much to it.
Korean elections are interesting to experience from an outside perspective. For starters, there are no paid for commercials. Maybe when people run for President or major office there are, but I have yet to see any ads on television. It's really nice. You don't have to hear "My name is Barack Obama, and I approve this message," 10,000 times a day. There are certain rules and requirements for people who wish to run for office. One is that they are required to wear a sash, that not only has their name on it, but the number they have been assigned on the ballot. In fact the number is as important as their name.
Here everything is very grassroots. There are no mass political spectacles. Here the politicians press the flesh like nothing I have ever seen. I have personally met at least three of the five people running for office here in Seosan. The politicians ride around in trucks with loud speakers, they hand out business cards to everyone they see. They stand on the street corner and bow to cars passing by. I was even serenaded by one as I was walking to the gym. He was standing on the corner with a small group of his supporters. They were playing music and signing, and as I walked by he switched to his very limited English. It consisted of him singing "I love you" repeatedly. Awkward, somewhat, humorous most definitely. I don't even know if I'm allowed to vote.
Perhaps what I find most interesting is the involvement of their supporters. You rarely see this type of involvement in local campaigns in the United States. Some of these people are running for Office of Education positions and they still have a loyal group of people working for them. Maybe, they are family members like what you see in the United States. On the other hand they could be people who are engaged in the political process. Whatever it is they are, they stand on the streets, they wear matching uniforms, they sing, they dance, they bow, they do things that we would never even associate with getting elected. However, here in Korea, it is how you get yourself elected.
It is the involvement of ordinary people that makes this political process impressive. It is the relative insignificance of the post, combined with the utter determination and devotion to ensure that your candidate gets elected. You can't help but be impressed by the people standing on the side of the street doing choreographed dance routines in the hopes that you will like their dancing better and elect their candidate. It is nice to see politics in its purer form. A form where government is not controlled by special interests and promises to do favors for those who elect them, but are directly responsible to the people who elect them.
Perhaps it is the fact that I am outside the political process here that has given me the impression I have. Maybe, the election cycle, and the political process are just as corrupt and soul destroying here as they are in America. Whatever it may be though, it is interesting to see another country, and they way they choose to implement Democracy.