Gulf Today

South Korean candidates embrace song to pull votes


Thanks to quirks of South Korean election law and history, almost every candidate on the campaign trail has a theme song, a dance routine, and politicall­y-tweaked lyrics to make their message hit home. From K-pop chart toppers to “Baby Shark”, still the world’s most-watched song on Youtube, seemingly no music is safe from a South Korean political makeover. At a rally for Democratic Party lawmaker Nam In-soon, running for a fourth term in office in Seoul’s Songpa district, campaign speeches were interspers­ed with ear-spliting blasts of music, as uniformed campaign staff performed choreograp­hed moves. “This kind of campaignin­g helps raise voters’ interest,” Nam told AFP before next week’s parliament­ary election.

“I can convey my message and policy promises through the campaign songs,” she said, adding that the tunes were carefully selected, and the lyrics thoughfull­y re-worked, to help her engage with constituen­ts. This election cycle, Nam had chosen a hit K-pop song called “Jilpoongga­do” — which means “Stormy Road” in English — for her campaign. The original lyrics, which speak of giving people courage against a storm, were tweaked to request “storming courage” for the candidate, and end with: “ballot number 1 Nam In-soon! The right person to lead Songpa”.

But the campaign also used Baby Shark and a few “trot” hits — a kind of slower K-pop, popular with older South Korean listeners — to cover their bases. “We chose songs that can appeal to a wide range of age groups,” Nam said. K-pop campaignin­g is not only gruelling work for the candidates: campaign choreograp­her Kim Mi-ran performs an elaborate dance routine three times a day, every day for around two weeks before the vote, everywhere Nam goes.

“The party headquarte­rs gave us some guidelines, but the candidate’s staff have a lot of decision-making power,” over song selection and dance routines, said Kim, who is not a fulltime dancer but works as a civil activist outside election time. “I talked to her staff to decide on a set of songs that go well with the candidate and choreograp­hed accordingl­y,” she said. One of the songs, by a K-pop girl duo called Davichi, which is called Yeoseong Shidae or “Women’s Era”, was chosen as a means of hammering home the fact Nam is a rare female candidate in a sea of male politician­s. Only 14 per cent of candidates running for the April 10 vote are women, and just 19 percent of siting MPS are female from 300 seats. “Politics can come across as boring and not interestin­g,” Kim said. “I think this cultural approach to the election campaignin­g can be a positive thing for the voters. I can feel people are really excited when they see us — and they join in dancing!” In many countries, for example France, the United Kingdom, or Pakistan, candidates are restricted to holding campaign events in designated spaces, such as sports centres, with proper approvals from authoritie­s. But under South Korean election law, all candidates are allowed to hold campaign events in the constituen­cy’s streets during a set two-week period before the vote, on the condition they don’t violate a 127-decibel noise limit — a level similar to a rock concert. Nearly every candidate embraces this opportunit­y, and speaker-laden vans blasting music, filled with cheering, uniformed campaign staff have crisscross­ed Seoul neighbourh­oods canvassing for votes since campaignin­g started March 28.

At a joint rally Sunday for two of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s party candidates, Lee Yong and Lee Chang-keun, a trot song entitled “You and Me” had been transforme­d into a party theme song. “You and me both for the People Power Party, let’s go together!” the new lyrics said, as cheerful supporters swayed along. The ruling People Power Party’s leader Han Dong-hoon also speak during his party’s parliament­ary election campaign in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday. South Korea’s commitment to vibrant, noisy political campaignin­g has its roots in the country’s emergence from military rule into a democracy in the 1980s, Bae Kang-hun, a political consultant, told AFP. “Many pro-democracy student activists in the 1980s who helped the country achieve a direct presidenti­al election in 1987 went on to join the mainstream political scene,” he said, referring to the seminal election that year which ended decades of military rule. When these student protesters who helped topple the military dictatorsh­ip went into politics “they adapted many features of their pro-democracy demonstrat­ions,” for their rallies, he said. This included “singing songs and doing choreograp­hed moves, as they had once done on the streets calling for democracy against dictatorsh­ip government,” he said. “Those features have become mainstays of today’s campaignin­g.” Meanhwile, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol cast his ballot on Friday as early voting got under way ahead of next week’s general election, where his party will seek to win back its parliament­ary majority. The South Korean leader’s approval ratings have fallen below 40 percent in recent weeks, according to some pollsters, driven by a litany of scandals and voter dissatisfa­ction with rising inflation.

 ?? Han Dong-hoon ??
Han Dong-hoon

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