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From garbage to a garden

May 09,2017
Today is Election Day. South Korea has been adrift over the last six months after the impeachment and detention of former President Park Geun-hye over an abuse of power scandal. During this period, the nation has been split in two — those opposing the impeachment with national flags and those supporting it with candles in Gwanghwamun Square. The acute division and lack of national leadership — coupled with North Korea’s endless nuclear provocations, the unpredictable Donald Trump administration and China’s persistent retaliations for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system — has pushed the country into an unprecedented chaos. Today’s election offers a great opportunity to put the troubled nation back on track.

But the presidential campaigns have been regretful due to their lack of vision and hope and an abundance of negative attacks against each other. That could lead to an election with the most swing voters in the history of our democracy. We cannot be relieved at the amazing voter turnout — 26.1 percent — in the early voting.

Still, elections change the world. In the Apr. 13 legislative election last year, voters sent a stern warning to former president Park and her ruling party to wake up from their tenacious arrogance, ignorance and incompetence. Dismissing the public ultimatum led them to a crushing defeat in the election.

People’s power also worked miracles before. The results of the Dec. 12, 1978, legislative election held during the ironclad rule of President Park Chung Hee was shocking. The opposition’s snatching of 1.1 percent more votes than the ruling party heralded the collapse of the ruling party the next year. The same took place in the Feb. 12, 1985, legislative election at the height of the Chun Doo Hwan government. The results of the election also led to the ruling party’s crushing defeat, which triggered the Jun. 10 Democratization Movement two year later, which again paved the way for the direct presidential election system.

The Dec. 16, 1987, presidential election was no different. In the first direct election of the sort, another general-turned-politician Roh Tae-woo was elected president thanks to the botched attempt to field a single candidacy between Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. But the election turned out to be a wake-up call to our regionalism-based voters.

A higher voter turnout surely helps ensure legitimacy for the new president at critical times like this. In dealing with strongmen like China’s President Xi Jinping, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to mention Trump and even North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, our president need to show a strong voice based on the high rate of votes he earned.

Today is a historic day. In 1952, The Times joked that expecting democracy to bloom in Korea is like hoping for a rose to bloom in a garbage can. We must prove that times have changed.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 26