Get tough on election crime

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Get tough on election crime

The Supreme Court passed a draft of guidelines to toughen court rulings on election-related offenses. Under the new guidelines, a candidate could lose elected office when found guilty of buying votes, spreading false accusations and initiating malicious slander and other election irregularities. Candidates would receive the same penalties regardless of whether they won or lost their elections.

The court has strengthened actions against election offenses since the 2008 legislative election, with the higher court upholding the lower court ruling to strip elected posts. But most rulings ended in handing out fines rather than prison terms.

This time, the revision calls for prison terms in principle if the candidate was found guilty of bribing voters or other candidates during an election campaign.

The stronger court actions against election irregularities could bring about sweeping changes in campaign practices. The guideline could be implemented after a public hearing as soon as August when the first trials on election offenses committed during the April 11 legislative election convene.

As many as 79 lawmakers elected from the April election for the incumbent 19th Assembly term - nearly twice that of 37 who stood trial for violating elections laws following the 2008 election - have been indicted for election-related offenses. Total election offenders reached 1,096, up 38 percent from the previous 18th Assembly. Many would likely end up losing their seats.

Election crimes have become sophisticated. They are intelligently crafted to prevent candidates, families and campaigners from getting their hands dirty. The judiciary must toughen actions and punitive measures. Slander campaigning also has become difficult to police as false rumors can be disseminated anonymously online through social networking sites.

The prosecution currently has specific guidelines on indicting cases of vote-buying and the spread of false rumors. Anyone who pays or receives more than 500,000 won ($434) gets arrested. But plotters have discovered ways to get around the law to commit election crimes.

Law enforcement authorities should develop new tactics and legal ways to prosecute new types of election-related offenses. The court also should be more aggressive in efforts to rein in ever-increasing election offenses.

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