|President Moon Jae-in speaks during a teleconference with G20 leaders from his office, March 26. The rival parties are using new campaign strategies for the April 15 general election as the world looks to Korea's model in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. / Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae|
By Yi Whan-woo
The rival parties are using new campaign strategies for the April 15 general election, after Korea has emerged as an exemplar in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) had called for the need to support the party and the government when the country became one of the worst-hit countries after the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in January.
The DPK is now underscoring how reliable and dependable the party and the government are, as Korea is being lauded by other countries for its swift implementation of a mass-scale testing regimen as well as its consistent, transparent messaging to the public throughout the arc of the crisis.
The main opposition United Future Party (UFP) had called for "judging" the Moon Jae-in administration on election day for its "bungled response" to the virus.
The UFP now appears to be refraining from criticizing the government over the preventive measures it has taken against the COVID-19 outbreak.
Its criticism rather focuses on the sluggish economy, for which the government has been blamed, claiming that the UFP is capable of providing solutions for an economic revival.
|Senior officials of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) pose before a banner that read, "Let's overcome COVID-19, let's defend the people," during a meeting to encourage medical and emergency workers at a regional party office in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, April 1. / Yonhap|
"We defend the people and we'll accordingly win the war against COVID-19," the DPK officials jointly chanted during a launch ceremony, April 2, for the official, 13-day election campaign.
A party official said, "We came up with the slogan, because we believe that we're trustful and dependable even in a time of crisis."
A second party official explained the slogan was chosen after considering public sentiment for the government has been "in a recovery phase."
The official pointed out that President Moon's approval rating rose to its highest level in more than a year at 52.9 percent in a survey released by pollster Realmeter, April 2. The disapproval rating was 44 percent, down 0.1 percentage points from a week earlier.
The survey result came after the President announced a massive financial aid package for low-income households and small businesses as part of his government's efforts to prop up the coronavirus-battered economy.
Realmeter noted that the self-employed and other small-business owners were behind the rise in Moon's approval rating.
Some 49.6 percent of them, up from 44.8 percent in the previous poll, said Moon was doing a good job.
The DPK also had 43 percent support, while the UFP had 28.2 percent.
The gap between the two parties had narrowed to just a little more than 5 percent in late February, when the government fell short of taking preemptive measures against the spread of the coronavirus.
|Main opposition United Future Party (UFP) election camp chief Kim Chong-in, second from right, speaks before a banner that reads, "We must change to live," during a meeting in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, April 2. / Yonhap|
Against this backdrop, the UFP underlined massive economic reform in its election campaign.
"The economy has been a weak point of the incumbent government and it was a smart move for the main opposition to focus on it, instead of criticizing the government for its overall performance," said Shin Yul, a Myongji University professor.
In what is seen a bid to bolster this strategy, the UFP named Kim Chong-in, an economist and political strategist, as the chief of its election camp.
In his announcement for the UFP's emergency economic measures, Kim pointed out that in the 2020 budget bill created before the coronavirus outbreak, many items were impossible to carry out.
Saying about 100 trillion won ($81.6 billion), or 20 percent of the budget, was likely to be left unspent, Kim proposed that the National Assembly should hold a session immediately after the general election and approve a restructuring of the original budget.
He argued that this will allow the government to have a 100 trillion won fund to fight the outbreak and its impacts, without additional fiscal injections.
"The proposal appears to be a move to avoid putting a further financial burden on taxpayers. It may appeal to swing voters who have been pessimistic about paying more taxes to revive the economy," Shin said.
Whether the change in campaign strategies will work remains to be seen, Shin speculated.
"A general election is an occasion for voters to assess the government's performance, mainly the negative aspects," he said. "In that regard, the DPK will not be guaranteed a win. It also does not mean the UFP should be discouraged because of the President's popularity."
Meanwhile, analysts said Korea's flattening of the COVID-19 infection curve becoming a global "model" in the fight against the virus could be a possible turning point in voter sentiment.
Korea and China are the only two countries to flatten the curve of new infections.
And it has done so without China's draconian restrictions on speech and movement, or economically damaging lockdowns like those in Europe and the U.S.
According to Cheong Wa Dae, world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called President Moon to request details on the country's measures.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lauded Korea for demonstrating that containing the virus, while difficult, "can be done."
He also urged countries to "apply the lessons learned in Korea and elsewhere."
Korean manufactures of testing kits for COVID-19 are gearing up for exports worldwide, too.
This come after the kits were produced to test more than 300,000 Koreans since the first cases in the country were confirmed.