What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
For the past several months, the Democratic Party of Korea and the People Power Party have been locking horns over the scheduling of presidential debate sessions.
The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-Myung has been demanding a debate with the People Power Party’s candidate Yoon Suk-yeol since December 2021, but Yoon has skirted the issue for various reasons, including that policy debates are “not helpful in electing the highest-level decision maker and verifying his thought processes” and that “it would be best for a presidential candidate to speak openly and have the viewers and experts make up their own minds”.
After a lot of back and forth, the two parties finally agreed to hold a debate on January 27 on KBS. Unfortunately, this was then blocked by the People Party’s Ahn Cheol-soo, who filed for an injunction to prevent the three terrestrial TV channels in South Korea—KBS, SBS, and MBC—from airing two-party presidential debates, which would exclude Ahn and the Justice Party’s Sim Sang-Jung. The court granted the injunction on January 26, but the People Power Party then proposed holding the debate online or on cable TV, instead of terrestrial TV, to avoid the injunction.
The Democratic Party suggested a four-party debate on January 31, but the People Power Party refused. Lee Jae-myung then agreed to a two-person debate on January 31, posting:
As you wish, let us hold a debate without fixed topics or reference materials.
To close the deal for this negotiation, I have had the set topic demand retracted.
— Lee Jae-myung, Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate, January 30, 2022.
As the detailed negotiations between the two main parties continued, the People Party’s Ahn Cheol-soo held a press conference on January 30, where he delineated his objections to the two-party debate and announced his intention to stage an overnight protest:
Dear citizens of South Korea,
This is Ahn Cheol-soo, the presidential candidate of the People Party.
I am, from this moment, starting an all-night protest, condemning the expedient and unfair bilateral collusion to hold a debate between the candidates of the two most powerful parties, the Democratic Party of Korea and the People Power Party.
Aren’t the two candidates going too far?
If the court has already pointed out the unfairness of the collusive bilateral debate and ordered them to stop, it would show basic courtesy to the people for them to immediately stop their planning and apologize. Surely this is the fairness and common sense that most people expect.
However, despite the fact that the broadcasting company stopped planning a bilateral discussion and requested a four-party discussion according to the court ruling, the two candidates have brushed this aside and insisted on an expedient bilateral discussion first.
This is a tactic to instill in the voters the illusion that this presidential election is between two people.
This is clear collusion between the parties with vested interests that block the people’s right to know.
The court has clearly pointed out that the two candidates’ collusive behavior leaves the other candidates with a lack of opportunity to promote their policies and persuade voters.
However, the attitudes of the two candidates are high-handed and indifferent.
They are ignoring the statutory spirit of the court’s decision—are they really former students of law?
The bilateral discussion before the Lunar New Year is a way to turn people’s eyes away from a four-party discussion. How is their ploy different from two merchants holding a huge sale prior to the Lunar New Year and telling the other merchants to sell their goods after all the customers are gone?
The fact that they would rather die than put me, Ahn Cheol-soo, on the table for the public before the Lunar New Year, that they will not hold a discussion with me before the Lunar New Year goes beyond the issue of erasing Ahn Cheol-soo, the individual. It is a matter of fairness and common sense in this country.
Is this really fair?
Isn’t it unreasonable, unfair, and absurd? Isn’t the National Election Commission’s interpretation also that the bilateral debate is in fact unfair? Are [they] living in an extraterritorial jurisdiction, going ahead with what both the court and the National Election Commission have told them not to do?
If this is how they act as candidates, won’t they be even worse if either one of them becomes the president?
This is probably your first time seeing people who used to fight each other like cats and dogs come together as one.
What you are seeing now is a stark demonstration of the reality of the hostile symbiosis that has ruined Korean politics over the past several decades and has maintained the impregnable fortress of established political forces.
Fellow Koreans, this election is said to have the most unfavorable candidates in history.
Should we just watch this collusive debate, which attempts to blind the voters and solidify this election as one between just two unfavorable candidates? Is this really the right thing to do?
Stagnant water tends to spoil. Korean politics has continued to spoil, as shown by a presidential election with the most unfavorable candidates ever. …
My fellow citizens,
I, Ahn Cheol-soo, sincerely appeal to you.
If you think that this country, the Republic of Korea, should not continue the way it is, please stop the collusive bilateral debate between the established forces.
The future of this country is bleak if we leave this presidential election to be pushed around by big candidates full of factional logic.
I strongly condemn the expedient, collusive bilateral debate between the two parties, and I will begin this protest with the support of the people who are concerned that this country should not go on like this.
— Ahn Cheol-soo, People Party’s presidential candidate, January 30, 2022.
The Justice Party’s Sim Sang-Jung also took to Facebook to announce that she would be protesting the two-party debate between the Democratic Party and the People Power Party:
The lawlessness of the Democratic Party and the People Power Party is crossing the line.
In abandoning the stern judicial decision of the court to not permit bilateral debates and in asserting that the National Election Commission’s interpretation—that any form of broadcasting of bilateral debates is impossible—is an interference in the election, the two parties are obstinately throwing a tantrum.
Abandoning all laws and fairness, we are heading toward a second satellite-party situation that only works to protect the vested interests of both parties.
If the two parties collude together, the law is useless, there is no need for the National Election Commission. What would this be other than the arrogant hegemony that says that they can do anything they please. Already facing judicial charges and raising doubts about their qualifications and morals, the two candidates are evading the law and ignoring public decisions and rules.
They would rather enjoy privileges by making all kinds of foul moves, ignoring the 70% of the public who want multilateral discussions. For those who want to rule over the law at will, the position of the chief executive of state affairs is absurd.
The people, the court, and the Election Commission have all said no. Candidates Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Suk-yeol, you should come down under the law. Stop colluding behind the scenes and let people see you step into the ring of fairness.
I and the Justice Party will never stand by this illegal debate between the two candidates. Together with our party members, supporters and the people, we will condemn the injustice and take action to stop it.
— Sim Sang-Jung, Justice Party presidential candidate, January 30, 2022.
The negotiations that had gone on for days between the Democratic Party and the People Power Party finally broke down on January 31, and the debate between Lee Jae-Myung and Yoon Suk-yeol was not held. Instead, the candidates will participate in a four-party debate on February 3.
Three mandatory debates have been scheduled by the National Election Commission to take place on February 21, 25, and March 2. The NEC will extend an invitation to participate in the debates to a candidate who: was recommended by a party with five or more seats in the National Assembly; was recommended by a party that has received over 3% of votes in the presidential election, election for proportional representative members of the National Assembly, and the election for proportional representative members in local assemblies held immediately prior; and received an average approval rating of at least 5% in public polls conducted between January 16 and February 14.
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