“NEW LABOUR: Because Britain deserves better.” This is the slogan that was on the first page of the manifesto issued by the British Labour Party in 1997. The somewhat gloomy, expressionless face of Tony Blair,the young leader of the Labour Party, was printed on the cover of the manifesto. Blair, who was only 43 at the time, finally swept awaythe British Conservative Party majority in the election and successfully accomplished a transfer of power after 18 years. His victory was largely due to his innovative manifesto, which is often considered as one of the best in history, and this manifesto enabled him to gain enormous support from the electorate.Utilization of manifestosin electionswas also introduced in Korea in 2006, when the 5.31 regional election was held. Then, what is a manifesto and how can thisbe an effective tool to establish a sound political culture?
Manifesto, more than just promises
Before taking a look at manifestos in-depth, it is important to establish the definition of “manifesto” first. Manifesto is derived from the Italian word *manifesto*, which is itself derived from the Latin word *manifestus*, meaning “evidence,”“clear,” or “conspicuous.”According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word refers to a public declaration of policy and aims, as issued before an election by a political party, candidate, orgovernment. Thus, amanifesto serves as a document of election pledges that voters can use as a tool to anticipate how the government will administer the country’s affairs if the party is elected. The modernpolitical manifesto was first used in Britain. During the election that was held in Tamworth in 1834, Robert Peel, who was a leader of the Conservative Party, declared that candidates could no longer gain favor with voters using election pledges that often went unfulfilled. After early years of trial-and-error, manifestos are now sold at ￡2 in Britain before elections and every British voter can easily find them in the newsstand. In every election, two million manifestos are often sold on average, and the revenue from manifestos is used as funds for election campaigns.
The introduction of a manifesto to the electoral arena has important effects. First, a manifesto forces candidates to fulfill their election pledges. Since manifestos are written based on candidates’ resolution to keep their promises, the whole detailed process of realizing each objective is included. Specific information regarding the policy, such as exact statistical data, budgets, duration, and priority, is also included in the manifesto, allowing voters toevaluate the policy of acandidate more accurately. Moreover, manifestos encourage voters to participate in politics, thereby strengtheningparticipatory democracy. With confidence in election pledges, the voters actively participate by choosing the party and the candidate in the election, and after the election, they monitor whether the policy works in practice.As a result, politics can revolve around voters and citizens, instead of merely swirling around political parties and politicians. At the same time, it enables both politicians and voters to take responsibility for the result of the election, since the manifesto is a sort of contract that ties them together as partners. Lastly, a manifesto encourages the construction of new political paradigms, allowing voters to select a candidate not by reputation but by the policies they have suggested. Thus through this healthy political culture, voters can actively participate in producing election pledges, rather than merely evaluating manifestos. Unlike Britain and Japan, where political parties and the government actively encouraged the use of manifestos, in Korea, on the other hand, the manifesto campaign has developed within civil society. The Korean Manifesto Center was launched in Feb. 2006 to monitor local governments and evaluate whether they reflect voters’ opinions. To disclose the whole process, civic groups have been in the center of the manifesto campaign. Eventually, in 2007 and 2008, the public official election act was revised, and candidates to be the President, head of local governments, and superintendents of education have been allowed to publish, distribute and sell their manifestos since.
Status of the manifesto system in Korea
Although the manifesto system was introduced in Korea several years ago, it seems that not many people notice its existence and purpose. Unfortunately, there have been insufficient institutional devices so far and this leads to a failure in establishing an appropriate environment for the manifesto system. The current manifestos are often urgently prepared just a few months before the election, and there are not enough professional experts who can specifically examine the election pledges. With an obvious aim of becoming a“mature democracy,” one question has arisen about whether the manifesto in our society coincides with its original purposes. Why has Korea failed to evolve and establish successfully the culture of manifestos in elections, although the basic institutions were introduced?
Unfortunately, elections in Koreaare greatly influenced by conditions other than policies. They are: regionalism, kinship and school relations. Korea is a country where bonds between people are prioritized when befriending someone. Those from the same school, ancestry and region often bond together. Among these, regionalism is considered as the chronic disease of Korean politics. Many voters still have the parochial idea that they should unconditionally support candidates from their hometown, while hating candidates from outside. Thanks to voters’ unconditional support, political parties or politicians representing their local communities usually win the majority of seats, and this undoubtedly damages the integrity within society.
The fault also lies in the election campaigns. In Korea negative election campaigns based on spreading false propaganda about the opposing candidate is usually considered one ofthe most serious and urgent problems. Candidates make personal attacks against their opponents and sometimes an election is polluted by groundless rumors. These false accusationsmay hinder voters from selecting appropriate candidates. Also, since there is little possibility of fair competition between the candidates, their morality can easily become paralyzed, letting the situation deteriorate further.
Because of the failure of implementing effectively the manifesto system, the following problems have occurred. First of all, candidates irresponsibly make one-sided, reckless promises that they cannotkeep in order to attract voters in the election. They focus on winning the election byfilling their pamphlets with unrealistic policies, without the will to keep their promises. With such a manifesto, voters are unable to select candidates based on election pledges, and this aggravates the existing problems. Theelection is influenced by subsidiary, otherwise unimportantfactors rather than policies.Furthermore, there is no institutional device to evaluate thedegree of achievementof election pledges and this can lead to low achievement rate of pledges. Pledges sometimes can even be abolished or changed, while most voters are not informed, which leaves voters withthe impression that politicians are unreliable. Combined together, the above phenomenon generates the strong skepticismfrom the public over politicians and their policies, eventually producing the current political apathy of the public. This deepening political indifferencemay create a gap between the politicians and voters, and establishing sound a political culture through feedback becomes fundamentally impossible.
Political apathy is also spreading day by day, and this explains the low voter turnout for the past presidential election. As is revealed on the graph, the voter turnout has been declining steadily from 89.2% in 1987 to 63% in 2007, except for the recent 18thelection thatwas held in 2012.To establish a sound political culture through feedback, not only the structural innovations, but also the efforts of individual voters are essential. Roh Eugene (Fresh., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Relations, Korea Univ.) said that, “sometimes we may have to choose the *lesser evil*candidate who cannot trigger positive changes. However, it is still meaningful if we could prevent the regression of democracy by voting.” To reach the aim of a“mature democracy” with a sound political culture, both structural improvements and efforts from voters are needed.
Room for improvement
So far, it is evident that Korean elections are suffering from problems regarding the implementation of the manifesto system. Still, we cannot just comfort ourselves with hopeless words like “it is a chronic disease of Korean society” or “it won’t change no matter how hard we try,”for thisimportant issue is related to the core of democracy in Korea. Then, what are the long-term solutions that are necessary at this point?
First, establishment of a system whose purpose isto make pledges that reflect various people’s opinions and to monitor or examine their practicality is needed. For this, plenty of time should be guaranteed to improve the quality of manifestos. For example, when the British Labour Party prepares for their manifesto, a Joint Policy Committee (JPC) that is composed of party leader and party executives, and National Policy Forum (NFC) with hundreds of parliament members and shop stewards work together. They repeatedly discuss policies to make an overall outline for the manifesto. During this process, the roles of the JPC and NFC are usually clearly separated: the JPC decides on political tasks to be achieved, while the NFC thoroughly examines each policy’s practicality.The whole process, which usually takes a couple of years to be completed, is all revealed to the media. Also, public hearings are held regularly, in order to enrich the quality of manifestos, and those hearings play a role as a tool to examine voters’ requests, effectiveness of the government’s policies and policy priorities.Thanks to this system, not only can parties and politicians check the overall manifestos before the election, but they can also prevent excessive pledges that are unrealistic.
Specific criteria like SMART and SELF indices also can be an effective tool to examine policies in the manifesto. Both criteria are currently in use in other countries like Britain, and their usage is encouraged in Korea, too. SMART is an acronym, giving criteria when setting objectives before the election. According to SMART criteria, ideal policies and political aims should be specific (S), measurable (M), achievable (A), relevant (R), and timely (T). Systems that evaluate how well the policies have been implemented after the election, is also needed. Similar to SMART criteria, SELF criteria can be used to examine the fulfillment rate of pledges after the election.In SELF criteria, S refers to sustainability, E is for empowerment, while L and F refer to locality and following, respectively. In this respect, politicians are under a duty to keep their promises, and at the same time, they become responsible for providing plausible reasons if and when they fail to actualize the policies listed in the manifesto. Issuing a report on the degree of policy fulfillment can be another solution. For example, in Britain, the ruling party at the time announces annual reports about their performance in comparison to the manifesto. In their last report during their term of office, the manifesto for the next election is also included. Through this sort of institutional device, it becomes possible to impose heavy social or political responsibilities to implement the manifesto, making it difficult to withdraw or change the policy easily.
Of course there would be side effects if the British system were to be implemented in Korean politics without any consideration of different circumstances. However, an overseas system that may need to be adapted to a Korean contextcan act as a reference when seeking long-term solutions.The Korean Manifesto Center is now developing movements aimed at the establishment ofa sound election culture, by providingevaluation results and unbiased information about the candidates’ manifestos. However, this is not enough: the voters need to play their role too by changing their attitudes towards elections. The voters have the right and duty to evaluate and question whether candidates fulfill their promises. Lee Da-bin (Soph., Dept. of Chinese Language & Lit.) said that, “In the last 4.30 regional election, I read over all the candidates’ pledges and compared them to each other, in order not to partially vote for a certain political party.”Toborrow the Korean Manifesto Center’s words, if voters meticulously examine the election pledges and select candidates based on the pledges included in manifestos, instead of selecting a candidate who is just a slick talker, societal problems like unemployment, income polarization, and the low birth rate may be closer to being resolved. “Cooperation at all levels of society is necessary for a sound political culture. Among them, I think that the most important driving force is the voters’ concerns. Civic groups and the media can light a fire on the manifesto campaign, yet, it would disappear without the voters’ attentions.” says AhnCheol-hyeon (Prof., Dept. of Political Science, Kyungsung Univ.)Similarly, therole of the press cannot be neglected. The press can performa desirable role by criticizing the policies and reporting them in-depth, while avoiding mere gossip. Lastly, to reach the ultimate goal forKorean elections, the cooperation of the voters, parties, and politicians must be achieved in advance above anything else. Ahn added that, “to successfully settle down the manifesto system in Korea, every part of the society should concentrate on carrying out theirown roles, and I believe that this can motivate favorable changes in Korean politics and elections.”
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Although it will be a long journey, it is important that we begin our very first steps.The manifesto system, and a sound election culture, is essential to the development of mature democracy, and we all know that the issue is too important for us to give up on easily. After all, Korea deserves better.To achieve a culture of sound elections, practical partnership between the candidates and voters is needed, rather than asuperficial relationship. Foster the relationship, and it may be possible to expect a “fair and quiet election” without noisy loudspeakers from campaign trucks, screaming for passing attention.