[EDITORIALS]Sloppy Justice in Election CrimesThe Seoul High Court ruling on appeal concerning the violation of election laws by seven lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties makes one suspect the judiciary branch's will to punish illegal election practices. Of the seven, the court ruled that two lawmakers, one each from the opposition and ruling parties, will be given a sentence serious enough to trigger the loss of their Assembly seats. But the lower court's verdicts on the other five were vacated or lightened, inevitably leaving the impression that some consideration was taken to enable them to keep their seats in parliament.
The ruling is not final and has yet to be endorsed by the Supreme Court, but appeals court rulings are seldom overturned. These cases may be significant precedents for the remaining cases.
The court lowered the fines imposed on three lawmakers from the 1 million won ($774) levied by the trial court to 800,000 won. If they had been fined 1 million won, they would have lost their seats in the Assembly. The reason given by the court suggests the kind feelings it had toward the lawmakers: "We took into consideration that the motive behind the donations was ceremonial"; "It had little influence on the election results and the crime was committed at the recommendation of an assistant," and "The business cards distributed were not many and donations were withdrawn."
During elections, the courts and the prosecutors' office often emphasized the serious penalties for illegal election practices, such as during the April 13 mid-term elections. Can the court really say that it has rigorously punished wrongdoers in its present ruling? In the end, hasn't the judiciary branch lied to the people by watering down its rulings at decisive moments?
If soft rulings on election crimes are repeated, not only will the law's dignity be damaged, but so will that of the prosecutors and courts. Such rulings promote an "anything to get elected" campaign climate. Both the court and the prosecutors' office should ask themselves why election crimes slip through the legal network. In the final analysis, the indictments were weak or the trial court's reasoning loose.