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Imagine an election campaign where you are phoned only once, where nobody knocks on your door and there are no attack ads on TV. A lot of people in the West would think, “Sounds great.” Well, not so fast. South Korean politicians have other ways of making sure folks know they’re running for office. And in the leadup to the provincial and municipal elections held here on Wednesday, they made darn sure voters did not forget them.          

Perhaps the main means of accomplishing this was through the use of what I call speechmobiles – something I’ve never seen before. The best way to describe them is with a thousand words worth of picture, so here you go:           

A speechmobile for one of the candidates parked by the side of a road in Busan.

A speechmobile for one of the candidates parked by the side of a road in Busan.

 

 These little things were absolutely everywhere in Yangsan and Busan during the election. And you definitely knew when they were in your neighborhood, because they had loudspeakers mounted on them – and they were turned all the way up to 11.          

Often, a candidate’s speechmobile would drive around with nobody in the back. However, it would blast out bits of his or her stump speech, as well as campaign songs praising either the candidate or the party.          

I was quite amused by the fact that one of the campaign songs was set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, while another was set to the tune of “YMCA” by the Village People. A lot of other campaign tunes were set to old Korean pop songs that the older – more likely to vote – people would remember. Frequently, the speechmobile would have a few ajumas in the back, too, waving at all the folks as they drove by.          

Every now and then – and with greater frequency as Election Day neared – the candidate would be in the back of the speechmobile giving a rousing oration.          

A candidate giving a drive-by speech to all the cars and pedestrians on a busy street in Busan the day before the election.

A candidate giving a drive-by speech to all the cars and pedestrians on a busy street in Busan the day before the election.

 

The candidates were also out and about at all the various community events and festivals, just like back home. They would also hang out around churches on Sunday morning to greet worshippers as they filed in.          

The candidates were not the only ones working hard, however. The ajumas were out in force, too.          

Every time I entered or exited a subway station over the past several weeks, I would see a big group of ajumas all wearing their campaign uniforms and bowing to the riders. They would say something about how So-and-so was going to work hard for them. Usually, one of the ajumas was holding a portrait of their candidate.          

It was also common to see these ajuma armies standing at busy intersections and doing choreographed dance routines while singing their candidate’s song. Another popular campaigning spot for ajumas was in shopping malls.          

A bunch of ajumas getting the word out in a Busan shopping mall the day before the vote.

A bunch of ajumas getting the word out in a Busan shopping mall the day before the vote.

 

 In addition to the speechmobiles and the armies of ajumas, I was also interested in the fact that Election Day is a holiday in South Korea. To encourage turnout, everybody gets the day off work. Of course, human nature being what it is, many people simply take advantage of this bit of free time to sleep in and head out of town to do something fun instead of voting.          

For example, my younger sister-in-law and her husband took KJ, me, Ian and their son to a dinosaur theme park in Masan. Turnout on Election Day was about 56 per cent.          

Ian gets the heck out of the way of a dinosaur.

Ian gets the heck out of the way of a dinosaur.

 

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