Cornered campaigner takes his life

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Cornered campaigner takes his life

A campaign volunteer for a prominent politician threw himself out a fifth-floor window when Gwangju Election Commission agents asked questions about illegal activities. He died of his injuries.

The death has rocked the Democratic United Party, which had promised a clean slate of candidates for the April 11 general elections.

Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the largest liberal opposition party, issued a public apology over the incident yesterday.

“I apologize to the public,” Han said at a party leadership meeting yesterday. “Due to the overly heated competition in Gwangju’s Dong District, a shocking incident has happened.”

Han said the party immediately suspended the nomination review procedure in the district. “We will send a fact-finding team to the site and investigate the incident thoroughly,” Han said. “The party will sternly punish anyone involved in illegal campaigning.”

The volunteer was working for the campaign of the DUP’s Park Joo-sun, a 63-year-old former prosecutor who was seeking a nomination to run for a third term in the district. The DUP has seen fierce competition among candidates to win nominations in Gwangju, the party’s traditional stronghold.

According to the Gwangju Election Commission, it received an anonymous tip that illegal campaign activity was taking place at the public library in Dong District, and it dispatched a team to investigate on the spot. The informant claimed that a campaign staffer for a primary candidate was using illicit means to get votes from voters.

At the library, the team found two suspects, including the 65-year-old head of the library, identified as Cho, and tried to question them. Cho was a volunteer in the primary campaign of Park. Cho said he wanted to use the men’s room and then allegedly jumped out a window on the library building’s fifth floor, the election commission said. He died on his way to the hospital.

The election commission issued a press release yesterday expressing regret for the death. It rejected speculation that its investigators intimidated Cho.

Park yesterday held a press conference and said he had no personal relationship with Cho. He said he had never made any request to him during the primary and asked the prosecution to thoroughly investigate the case.

The election commission reportedly confiscated some evidence including an organizational chart and expense records in the primary race, including some voter data only available from local governments.

They also found records of gifts given to supporters of Park on holidays and birthdays in past years, including cash, ginseng, fruit and dried fish.

The suicide throws into doubt the DUP’s vow of a clean and transparent nomination selection process ahead of the general election. One of the reasons the competition is so intense this election, according to insiders, is that the DUP is opening up its primaries to participation by average voters, who can vote using their mobile phones.

A senior leader of the DUP yesterday asked all of its candidates to refrain from acting recklessly.

“Similar problems associated with overheated competitions are seen in other areas,” said Representative Park Jie-won, a member of the DUP Supreme Council. “The party won’t be able to avoid criticism if this continues. We need thorough measures to prevent a crisis, and candidates need to heighten their awareness.”

The party also faced criticism from voters for having failed to oversee its primaries properly.

The DUP announced some of its final candidates last week in districts where no primaries were held. Some losing hopefuls yesterday questioned the transparency of the process.

Eleven failed applicants issued a statement and demanded Chairwoman Han step down over the nomination crisis. They said they will file an injunction against Han to stop her from working as the party head if she ignores their demand.

The DUP made another decision yesterday to field a strategic nomination in Seoul’s Nowon A District, giving the candidacy to Kim Yong-min, a co-cost of the popular political podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda” (“I’m a Petty-Minded Creep”). The district is the former constituency of Chung Bong-ju, another co-host of the show, who was convicted of spreading false rumors about President Lee Myung-bak when Lee was running for president in 2007.

By Ser Myo-ja []
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