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More open TV debates, please

Apr 11,2017
South Korea will elect its 19th president in less than a month. The presidential election is held seven months ahead of the original schedule following the removal of President Park Geun-hye from office after the Constitutional Court upheld the legislature’s impeachment in March.

During the tightly-scheduled election timetable, the TV debates will be crucial for voters to choose their candidates. The debates must be formatted differently from the past. They must be able to answer to allegations and issues based on their intelligence and thoughts not from the script written by their campaign team so that they could truly demonstrate understanding of their policy platforms and the ability to communicate with the public. The Bareun Party employed the unscripted debate for its primary.

The election commission has made changes to the upcoming debates. Candidates are given 18 minutes to address to the voters while standing, an increase of 2 minutes for each candidate. The debates, however, should have gone further. At least one session should have been devoted to free open debate without a pre-arranged set of questions.

Three sessions are not enough as well. Even the televised party primary was held more than six times. Debates on national TV should be held at least 10 times by the three local terrestrial broadcasters.

Negative campaigning is in full swing as the election turns out to be a neck-and-neck race between Moon Jae-in from the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo from the People’s Party. TV debates are instrumental in protecting voters’ judgment from mudslinging and unreliable polls.

The two candidates also must regard TV debates as an effective way to sell their election platforms. They cannot expect to gain voters’ trust if they attempt to try to customize the debate process to their favor.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30