Conservative group sees fraud in recall initiatives

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Conservative group sees fraud in recall initiatives

Drives to recall local government heads have been initiated with invalid signatures, but a legal loophole has kept the people responsible from ever facing punishment, a conservative civic group said yesterday.

According to the Love Korea Movement, five people either coerced signatures or forged them in order to demand recall votes against Hanam Mayor Kim Hwang-sik in 2007, Siheung Mayor Lee Yeon-soo in 2008 and Jeju Governor Kim Tae-hwan in 2009.

Despite finding the invalid signatures, the National Election Commission never asked prosecutors to look into the violations.

“Because there is no law governing forged signatures to initiate a recall vote, the local election officials judged that it was enough to just dismiss the recall vote initiatives,” said an official from the election commission.

The Love Korea Movement wants to close the legal loophole. Last month, it asked the Seoul Central Prosecutors Office to investigate the people who allegedly forged signatures to initiate the recall votes against the Hanam mayor and the Jeju governor.

“Such actions damage and undermine the roots of democracy,” the civic group said.

Recall votes allow citizens to remove an elected official from office through a direct ballot. To initiate a recall, more than 10 percent of the voters in the district must sign a petition. The petitioners must personally write their name, resident ID number and the date on the voters’ registry and sign or place a seal.

Once the recall vote is held, more than a third of the district’s voters must cast a ballot, and a majority must be in favor of removal in order to oust an official from office.

Twenty-six recall initiatives have been filed since the system was introduced in July 2007, but only two recall votes actually took place.

Enough signatures were submitted to the National Election Commission to force recall votes against the Hanam mayor and Jeju governor, but in both cases voter turnout was too low for the ballots to be counted.

According to the civic group, information from local election watchdogs showed that 33.6 percent of the 76,904 signatures collected to initiate the recall vote against the Jeju governor last year were invalid. Of the 25,860 invalid signatures, 14,938 were obtained through coercion or deception, and the rest were forged, the watchdogs said.

In the recall drive against the Hanam mayor in 2007, 42.4 percent of the signatures were reportedly invalid.

In Lee’s case, the National Election Commission invalidated 11,714 signatures, 25 percent of the total, on the petition to hold a recall vote against the then-mayor of Siheung. The decision left the petition without enough signatures to bring the recall to a vote, but Lee lost his seat in January 2009 after he was found guilty of receiving bribes from a builder in return for allowing a charnel house to be built inside a restricted development zone.

By Lee Chul-jae, Ser Myo-ja []
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