|Ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Lee Nak-yon, center, eats fish cake at a stall in Namdaemun Market in central Seoul, Saturday, together with former SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun, left, DPK Rep. Woo Sang-ho, right, two candidates of the DPK competing for the party's primary to run in the Seoul mayoral by-election in April. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
With less than three months left before April's by-elections, potential candidates have started campaigning, with some of them visiting traditional markets to hear about the economic hardships suffered by merchants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it has become routine for politicians to eat popular street foods in traditional markets to appeal to blue-collar voters, critics say such practices show the hypocritical side of politicians as most of them visit such markets only during campaign periods.
On Saturday, former SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun and Rep. Woo Sang-ho, two members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) competing in the party's primary race to select a candidate to run in the Seoul mayoral by-election, visited Namdaemun Market in Seoul, together with DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon. The politicians ate fish cake at a stall while listening to the hardships suffered by vendors and small business owners there.
Three days earlier, Na Kyung-won, a former four-term lawmaker with the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) running to become the PPP's candidate for the by-election, also engaged in a similar campaign, visiting a local market in Seoul's Yangcheon District and eating "hotteok," or Korean pancake, from a stall.
|Na Kyung-won, a former four-term lawmaker with the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), eats "hotteok" at a stall during her visit to a local market in Seoul's Yangcheon District, Jan. 20. She is running to be the PPP's candidate for the Seoul mayoral by-election. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun|
Food columnist Hwang Kyo-ik said on Facebook that such practices could antagonize people as they could be viewed as a "political show."
"In Korea, politicians go to markets to eat tteokbokki (rice cake in red pepper sauce), soondae (traditional Korean-style sausage), fish cakes, bungeoppang (a fish-shaped bun with red bean paste) and hotteok, and reporters take pictures of them. I wonder if such practices also take place in other countries," Hwang said. "As far as I can see it, such practices are legacies of past monarchies ― kings inspecting the living conditions of their people."
Other critics also said the "one-off events" do not help improve the economic conditions of the vendors there.
Citizens were also skeptical of these practices.
"I really don't understand. They (politicians) never appear at the markets but come to shake hands with the vendors and have a mukbang [eating] show when an election is nearing. After the election, they disappear again. Now we need to tell politicians to go away when they visit markets," a blogger wrote.