Campaign gag on ‘hot’ issues bad: opposition

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Campaign gag on ‘hot’ issues bad: opposition

The opposition Democratic Party questioned the impartiality of the National Election Commission yesterday, saying the watchdog’s controversial ban on public debates over “hot political issues” is hurting its chances in the local elections.

The National Election Commission issued a guideline Monday regulating public activities on “hot election issues.” The commission said the four major rivers restoration project and the free school lunch program are “hot election issues,” and it banned religious groups, civic groups and political parties from discussing the issues in rallies, or making campaign pledges about them.

Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyoon condemned the commission for siding with the ruling Grand National Party ahead of the June 2 local elections.

“We will consult with other opposition parties to stop this unacceptable situation,” Chung said. “We will not allow the National Election Commission’s interference in the election.”

Representative Lee Kang-rae, floor leader of the DP, called the election commission “reinforcement troops” for the ruling party.

In an interview with MBC radio yesterday, Yun Seok-geun, head of the legal affairs division of the commission, defended the guideline.

“We want to guarantee the freedom of political expression,” he said. “But the expression should be made within the framework of the current election law.”

He said the commission was applying the same standard for the ruling party, saying it couldn’t promote the four river project during the campaign.

Experts, however, say that the commission may be going too far in interpreting the election law.

Lim Ji-bong, a law professor at Sogang University, said the commission’s guidelines and bans are giving the public the impression that the expression of opinion on the so-called “hot issues” is illegal, infringing on freedom of expression.

He also pointed out that the election law is too ambiguously worded, allowing the commission to interpret it liberally. “It is a problem for the commission to try to regulate the freedom of political expression with an arbitrary interpretation of the law,” Lim said.

“The commission is now trying to rule whether a public debate has the intent to influence the election or not, but it is an incredibly complex issue to make a judgment,” Lim said.

The election commission also made a recommendation to the government Tuesday that it should temporarily shut down promotion booths for the four river project until the election is over. The watchdog told the Land Ministry that the promotion of the river project on the eve of the election is an act that may work favorably or against a certain political party or a candidate.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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