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Watching the watchdogs

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Oct 07,2009
It appears that the labor union of the National Election Commission is too political, triggering concerns about the election watchdog’s fairness.

Civil servants have the right to unionize, and their rights certainly must be protected. However, they are public servants with official duties related to state affairs, and it is only natural that their labor union activities are restricted. The public servant unions, though, decided to join the politically tilted Korean Confederation of Trade Unions - raising concerns about the neutrality of civil servants.

The concern is particularly serious for civil servants working with the National Election Commission. Political confrontations are most intense during elections, and it is the duty of commission officials to oversee and ensure a fair election. They are like referees in a sports game. When they support a political side en masse - even if it’s just through their overall union affiliation - it is impossible to expect that they will perform their duties properly.

Last July, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions issued newspaper advertisements littered with political slogans such as: “We protest against mad cows. The administration aims to blow out candles by making public servants praise President Lee Myung-bak and by blinding and deafening the people.” Despite these clearly political ads, they went unpunished.

The Korean Democracy Government Employees’ Union, an umbrella group that covers the unionized civil servants of the National Election Commission, has also issued statements and comments that are extremely critical of the administration.

“The administration must stop fraud against the nation,” one of these statements said. “We are servants of the Korean people, and we refuse to become servants of the administration,” another said.

In other statements, the umbrella group has demanded that the GNP “ban the nomination of resigned local autonomous government heads.”

How can we expect them to fairly manage an election, when the union they belong to has blatantly sounded off about political issues and elections in the past? Of the 1,803 rank-and-file public servants on the election commission who are eligible to join the union, 1,786 - more than 99 percent - have done so. If they follow the guidelines of the KCTU, which has a history of militant political fights, the outcome is easy to guess.

It’s abundantly clear that the National Assembly and the administration must now come up with a systemic measure to guarantee political neutrality of civil servants, particularly the election watchdog officials.



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