Party got what it deservedThe Supreme Court has upheld an earlier ruling that found three Pro-Park United lawmakers, Suh Chung-won, Yang Jeong-nye and Kim Noh-sik, guilty of election law violations. We welcome the decision to eradicate bribery in exchange for party nominations, an illegal practice that has long marred Korean politics. We expect this ruling to be an effective check to prevent any recurrence of this chronic problem.
This decision is also significant because it has stripped the three incumbents of their National Assembly seats by strictly applying the law on elections that took effect in February 2008. This law was put in place to specifically target bribery for nominations. It is broadly applied and carries beefy sentences. Anyone who receives or is promised money, goods or other financial benefit in exchange for influencing nomination of a candidate for a party’s proportional seat can be sentenced to a maximum five years in prison or fined 10 million won ($7,910). Before this, there was no particular law to penalize buying of nominations. Applying the law governing political funding only resulted in soft punishment. If you paid for a seat, you’d be nominated and could still get away with it.
Despite the strict new law, Pro-Park United illegally received bribes for nominations. It tried to bend the law by pretending that the party, not the individuals concerned, was simply borrowing money, rather than taking bribes. But the Supreme Court clearly showed its willingness to come down hard on this attempt to cover up crimes. The court affirmed that even if it was the party that took the money, it was still illegal if the money was provided to win nominations. The court also determined that there was no intention on either side of the transactions to pay the money back. This is a solid precedent; no matter what you do, you’ll be held accountable.
The practice of trading money for an Assembly seats is undemocratic. Unqualified and incompetent people have been nominated for decades simply because they had fat wallets. In particular, proportional representatives could simply buy their seats without being judged by voters. This is the most blatant act of deception that a party can commit. Such parties don’t deserve to represent their supporters.
We need to take this ruling as an opportunity to review unrealistic laws on political funds. Politics should be transparent and fair but political activities do require money. The political fund law, passed in 2004, is considered so idealistic that it blocks even legal funding and has bred illegal activities. Amendments to the law are pending, and we need to carefully consider ways to eliminate corruption while revising impractical regulations. What is important is transparency.