Korea's Election Street Scene: A Feast for the Senses
By Leslie Hickman, Staff Writer
March 10, 2022 – Election season is over in South Korea for another five years, but what a feast for the senses it was. Presidential candidates went all out to woo their fellow citizens in the 22 days leading to polling day. For three weeks, Koreans found their phones abuzz with political endorsements, televisions aglow with advertisements, and their streets lined with campaigners wearing bright red, blue, or yellow party colors. Whether on their way to work, school, or an outing with friends, voters couldn't escape the bright smiles vying for their attention.
Along with the smiles from campaign workers came colorful promotional material such as posters, banners, and pamphlets. Lines of connected posters showed the faces of the 14 registered candidates, which popped up seemingly overnight on government buildings, temporary construction enclosures, and even playground gates. Busy intersections boasted larger, singular versions of these posters. They stretched between signposts and hovered high above bridges, placed strategically for cars idling at stoplights. The candidates competing to become South Korea's next leader used these displays to familiarize the public with their name, slogan, headshot, party colors, and voting number. The numbers were an integral part of a candidate's advertising, assigned according to how many seats their party held in parliament or by alphabetical order if the party had no seats. Campaign workers proudly displayed these numbers on matching coats, pamphlets, and other eye-catching merchandise.
Vans and trucks decked in election gear roamed the streets late into the night as loudspeakers heralded their candidate's vision for a prosperous future. During the day, supporters with megaphones rode trucks fitted with electronic screens in a mini parade-like scene. The trucks stopped at busy street corners to play energetic jingles while campaign workers rushed to hand out flyers, all the while smiling behind party-colored masks.
The presidential candidates themselves spent much of the canvassing period on rallies around the country. Crowds brandished light sticks, balloons, and homemade signs while they chanted their candidate's name. In return, the politicians waved, made peace signs, and held their arms over their heads in heart-shaped poses. Exciting K-pop songs, often used in Korean politics to inspire and encourage, played over speakers, and campaign workers performed fully choreographed dance routines to their candidate's personalized jingle.
On temporary stages erected by parties, contenders gave rousing speeches to their excited audiences. Politicians who laughed at themselves by wearing fish-shaped headpieces and taekwondo uniforms, or those who shared intimate moments cultivated warm feelings from audiences. Throughout the spectacle, cameras relayed proceedings on giant screens behind. As the rallies drew to a close, supporters gave tokens of their appreciation such as bouquets, stuffed toys, and handwritten notes.
As with all presidential campaigns, these exciting operations also carried an edge of weight and urgency. 2022's leading candidates, Lee Jae Myung and Yoon Suk Yeol, remained neck and neck through the closest campaign in 20 years. These exciting rallies and advertising campaigns provided the final opportunity for the two candidates to shape their images and claim the last of the undecided votes.
While the excitement of the canvassing season stimulated the senses, fostering a range of emotions, all will soon be forgotten as the electorate's vision for Korea unfolds in office. Within hours of Yoon Suk Yeol's victory, the streets were cleared of all advertising as if a campaign had never taken place. Although politicians are the faces of an election, the true stars of the canvassing season are the artists, scholars, farmworkers, street-food stall operators, taxi drivers, and office workers who participate in the hope for a better tomorrow.