Put an end to vote buying

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Put an end to vote buying

National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae has been indicted without detention on charges of handing out cash bribes ahead of the ruling party’s leadership election in 2008. The prosecution also took the same criminal action against Kim Hyo-jae, former senior secretary to the president for political affairs who had also been Park’s campaign chief, and Park’s top policy secretary, Jo Jeong-man, who had been in charge of finances during the 2008 campaign. The prosecution wrapped up its 47-day investigation that started with whistleblowing by ruling party lawmaker Koh Seung-duk, who returned an envelope containing 3 million won ($2,600) that had been delivered from Park’s office shortly before the 2008 race.

This is the first time the country’s National Assembly speaker has been indicted. The practice of vote buying in party leadership elections dates back to the 1960s and has been common since then. But no one dared to pull the skeleton out the closet, not to mention take criminal action.

Kim Geun-tae, a member of the Democratic Party during the former Kim Dae-jung administration in 2002, confessed that he raised funds illegally to win the party’s leadership election. He said that of the 540 million won spent during the campaign to win an executive post in the ruling party in August 2000, he did not report 240 million won to the National Election Committee because it was raised illegally. He said he was making the confession in hope of changing the nefarious campaign practice. He was indicted, but the court suspended his indictment, pardoning him on the assumption that other candidates would have also spent illegal funds during the campaign. This time, however, several high-profile politicians have been indicted, including the Assembly speaker.

Yet the truth has not been fully revealed. The staff at Koh’s office have claimed that the person who delivered the cash envelope carried a bag full of similar manila envelopes. From his testimony, and in light of various circumstantial evidence, Koh is unlikely the only one who received a cash bribe.

But the prosecution closed the investigation, citing a lack of evidence. Prosecutors concluded that the 3 million won delivered to Koh came from Park’s office, but they could not place the whereabouts of the 20 million won that was alleged to have been distributed to others. The prosecution also turned up nothing in response to bribery allegations related to the opposition Democratic United Party’s leadership race last December.

The first-ever indictment of an Assembly speaker should be the starting point for rooting out vote buying in elections. The practice is also commonplace in elections to select education superintendents, religious leaders and various association chairmen, but it is high time to rectify this sordid state of affairs.
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