Electoral fraud’s hidden costsMinister of Public Administration and Security Maeng Hyung-kyu’s suggestion that the costs of re-elections and by-elections for heads of local governments should be borne by the candidates themselves is reasonable. Since the last local elections in 2006, 35 re-elections and by-elections were held to fill vacant seats at a cost of 18.6 billion won ($16.4 million). That’s an average of almost 500 to 600 million won, worsening the financial burden on local governments already suffering from a severe budget crisis. So we believe that it is right to let the candidates violating election law bear the cost.
As a matter of fact, the cost to local constituencies goes well beyond those figures, which only reflect the amount of money the National Election Commission requests local governments to pay. That covers only direct expenditures, for employing ballot workers and election watchers, printing and mailing election materials, public relations and candidate compensation after the election.
When a re-election or by-election is conducted, an administrative vacuum is inevitable from the moment a candidate’s fraud is revealed until the elections are finished. That inflicts considerable damage on the livelihoods of the people who have to take time off to work as campaign aides or go to polling stations. When one includes these indirect costs as well, the damage is several times the above figures.
If the government wants to reform election law, it should apply such changes to other elections as well. In fact, when you include the National Assembly and local councils, over 200 re-elections and by-elections have been held since 2006, costing more than 50 billion won in taxpayers’ money. Election experts have proposed that the costs for re-election and by-elections be increased and that the limits on candidates’ eligibility to run again be toughened in order to deter candidates from violating the law and prevent offenders from causing more problems.
Of course, political parties should also be held accountable for an unnecessary and wasteful election, because they nominated the wrong candidate from the beginning. It would be almost impossible for political parties to keep a close watch for suspicious movements by their candidates 24 hours a day. Still, more voters in this country cast their ballots primarily based on candidates’ political affiliations than on their qualifications. Therefore, if the political parties try to deny responsibility, they would be betraying voters’ trust. Now it is time to figure out ways to restrict the right of political parties to nominate criminals as candidates for re-elections or by-elections, or at least to punish them by slashing their government subsidies.