A need for election reform

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A need for election reform

Wednesday’s by-elections ended in crushing defeat for the ruling Grand National Party despite its unprecedentedly high-profile and heated campaigning. The run-up to election day was clamorous - from the early stages of selecting candidates to later on when campaigns became mired in slanderous charges and illegalities. The elections have now ended, and the aftermath calls for modesty and justice.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle were keen on the latest by-elections because of their implications for the general elections in April 2012 and the presidential election later that year in December. By proxy, the results from the latest by-elections could be used to help determine the slate of candidates voters will choose from in next year’s races, including the presidential election.

Indeed, presidential hopefuls and kingmakers regarded the recent elections as a stepping stone to the Blue House, and party factions fought emotionally to field their candidates. In affluent Bundang B District, the chairman of the main opposition party ran against his former ruling party counterpart and won a meaningful victory in the traditionally conservative turf.

But from the overheated competition came corruption and illegalities. The campaign of Ohm Ki-young, the former MBC president who stunned the nation by running as the GNP candidate in the Gangwon gubernatorial race and lost, came under charges of violating election laws by hiring people to call Gangneung voters for their support.

His rival Choi Moon-soon also reportedly sent false text messages to defame Ohm. Minister without Portfolio Lee Jae-oh, too, appears to have violated the rule of neutrality as a civil servant, because he publicly supported Ohm and tried to have his ministry officials help out with the campaign.

Politicians should first regret for dirtying our elections and democracy, and both parties should debate and reflect on their actions to prevent recurrence of illegal practices. Most of all, however, they should humbly read and accept the voters’ message for governance reform. Now it is the ruling party’s obligation to revamp the government as a whole.

Election authorities and the prosecution should investigate thoroughly into all charges of illegalities. They must prosecute according to the law, while toughening regulations to prevent wrongdoings in future campaigns. Elections are integral to the democratic system, but they only work when mistakes and loopholes are fixed.

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