No more costly by-elections

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No more costly by-elections

The silliest election in Korea was the Gangwon gubernatorial by-election in April 2011. Lee Kwang-jae, a right-hand man of President Roh Moo-hyun, won the June 2010 local election even though he had been convicted of bribery. Lee was appealing the verdict of a lower court that found him guilty of taking 100 million won ($89,000) in bribes from Park Yeon-cha, chairman of Taekwang Industrial, and former Nonghyup Chairman Chung Dae-kun. But the Democratic Party nevertheless nominated him. Lee ended up stepping down from his post after the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling.

The ensuing by-election was costly, taking up a hefty chunk of the budget and disrupting the administration of the province. While this seems absurd, we may have to deal with more wasteful by-elections.

The Lees are also included on the list of 54 candidates nominated by the main opposition Democratic United Party. Lee Hwa-young, running for the Donghae and Samcheok Districts in Gangwon, was convicted together with Lee. He is also suspected of having pocketed 100 million won from Hyundai Motor Group.

Party Secretary General Im Jong-seok has been found accountable in the first trial that delivered guilty rulings to his aides for taking bribes from the suspended Samhwa Mutual Savings Bank.

The DUP stressed that the party nominated these politicians because they are presumed innocent until the final ruling. But it is unfortunate that criminal cases have been overlooked in scrutinizing candidates for legislative office. What is most important in nominating candidates for public office is accuracy and prudence. The nomination committee should have made prior judgment on the criminal charges based on the circumstantial evidence and court findings.

There are others who can stake a by-election. They are those who were convicted and found guilty in the first trial among the names hand-picked by the ruling Saenuri Party and the DUP as potential contenders in the April election. Some joke jail life experience is essential to succeed in Korean politics. But who would respect the law if criminal suspects get nominated as fit to lead the country?

Nominations are up to the party. But such authority should be exercised with ethical and legal discretion as their choices can affect our society.

The wrong choice should no longer cause damage to the country and to taxpayers.
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