[Viewpoint] One poor choice ruins entire election

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[Viewpoint] One poor choice ruins entire election

Three things can influence the outcome of an election: public opinion, election structure and nomination. Where the public heart lies can change the fate of the ruling and opposition parties. Teamwork - whether it is united or divided - on the rival’s side also can influence the geography of the election.

Who the parties field for candidates to run in the election is equally important. The names the ruling party and opposition choose to lay before the voters can sway public opinion and the climate of the election.

When the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction of the Grand National Party - now renamed the Saenuri Party - excluded the pro-Park Geun-hye faction in nominating candidates to run in the 2008 legislative election, public sympathy eventually shifted toward the Park loyalists and induced their comeback in the election. Nomination of candidates therefore is crucial in determining the outcome of election.

The ruling and opposition parties are busy studying the names of their potential players. The Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party are scrutinizing applicant qualifications and potential candidates through applications and interviews.

It remains unclear how well they will do in drawing up the shortlist. But some of the applicants are preposterous; Representative Kim Choong-whan of the ruling Saenuri Party, for instance, applied for the Gangdong B District, southern Seoul. He currently represents the Gangdong A District.

He jumped districts because of the election law. In January 2009, he was found guilty and paid a 5 million won ($4,434) fine for violating election and public office law after his wife was caught distributing dried anchovy gift packages to 105 residents in his constituency. Since Kim cannot be re-elected in the April election in Gangdong A District even if he wins, he submitted a bid in a different constituency in the hopes that no one would notice.

Kim has been audacious and desperate to maintain his constituency. In April last year, he petitioned a revision in the election law to soften the regulation on disqualifying an election win when the candidate’s spouse breaks the election law. His attempt was booed and eventually rejected by his peers.

In September, he petitioned the Constitutional Court that it was unconstitutional to punish a lawmaker for a criminal act his spouse commits. The court overruled it. When Kim realized he could not bend the law, he turned to the neighborhood district largely because the incumbent representative of the district was equally unqualified for re-election.

Lawmaker Yoon Seok-yong, who represents the Gangdong B District, was also indicted for violating the election law when he was found handing out 250 expensive mattresses - worth a total of 82.75 million won - to welfare groups and his National Assembly colleagues after siphoning them off of the Korea Sports Association for the Disabled, of which he is chairman, which had received the mattresses as donations from a furniture company. He was also accused of illegally campaigning for votes against free school lunch programs during the Seoul referendum.

Kim capitalized on Yoon’s weakness to serve his own interest. We can only imagine Gangdong residents’ feelings as they watch the contest between the two dishonest representatives of their districts.

The opposition camp’s list is also full of shameful applicants. Representative Kang Sung-jong of the DUP from Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, was arrested for embezzling school funds while serving as the managing director of the Shinheung Foundation from 2003 to 2010. He received a prison sentence of three and a half years in the first trial and a suspended sentence of four years on top of a jail sentence of two and a half years in the second trial.

However, he still applied to run in the upcoming election. If he felt any shame, he would not have thought of running even if he is legally allowed to bid before the final ruling. Seen from the rulings in the first two trials, the Supreme Court will hardly find him innocent. If the highest court confirms his jail sentence, he is likely to lose his seat even after he wins the April 11 legislative election.

There are numerous other ludicrous applicants from both parties. It is as important for the parties to sort them out as it is to recruit new talents. If parties nominate candidates that are beyond comprehension, it can create problems in other constituencies. One poor choice can ruin the entire election. Whichever party manages not to lose its head over nominating candidates will have a much better chance in the upcoming election.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-il
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