Days numbered for election fraudGiving bribes to control the outcome of elections usually results in fines and prison sentences being dished out, or even dismissals from public office. However, in Korea, where public shame is so hard to bear such sordid tales can tragically end in suicide. This was the case in Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang, some years ago when two residents who were being investigated for election fraud killed themselves after envelopes stuffed with cash were found to have been handed out illegally.
Election authorities have long been battling corruption. In 1994, after benchmarking a British act created in 1883, they enacted a law to prevent corruption and irregularities in elections for public office in a bid to rein in bribery, cheating and influence-peddling. This marked the start of the National Election Commission’s move to toughen penalties for wrongdoers and increase financial rewards for reports of illegalities.
Their efforts have met with much success thanks to certain political and social changes. Corporate funding during presidential elections has largely evaporated since 2007. Public awareness has also helped reduce the level of malpractice. Armed with smartphones and other digital gadgets, voters now can easily report bribery and other misdeeds, backed by hard evidence. Today, officials must be quite brave to buy votes during campaigns.
However, such foolishness still goes on. A potential candidate hoping to run in this year’s general election in April was reported to authorities by a local election supervisor for handing out money in Anyang, Gyeonggi. He is now being investigated and was disqualified from trying to seek a party nomination. According to the person who tipped off the authorities, he bribed election brokers who recruit campaigners and local reporters. The informer will be handsomely rewarded if his information proves correct. More than 70 election-related bribery cases have been reported to the police since last October.
The National Assembly speaker has also been summoned on charges of bribing his ruling party peers to win the race for the party leadership. Meanwhile, the prosecution is investigating allegations that money changed hands illegally during the primary leadership election of the main opposition party.
Money-tainted elections need to be rooted out once and for all, aided by greater public scrutiny and speedy probes, as elections in the country continue for the sixth decade.