[Viewpoint] Society must accept Rep. LeeThe ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party are planning a bipartisan motion to expel first-term lawmakers Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon of the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party. Occupying 277 seats of the 300-seat legislature, the two parties can easily secure the majority vote necessary to delist the two left-wing legislators who have been pressured to resign by their own party after they were discovered to have won nominations for proportional representation through primary-rigging.
Regardless of the scandal, the act of legislators ganging up to oust peer members without firm legal grounds is political bullying. They are confusing party and legislative affairs and discounting choices made by voters.
Representatives Lee and Kim earned second and third ranking for proportional representation in the April 11 legislative election following a primary. They joined the legislature because six candidates from the fledging party were entitled to proportional representation according to the seats the party won in its first bid in a legislative election.
But they found themselves in the eye of the storm after an internal party investigation exposed rampant vote-rigging and foul play in the process of voting for candidates for proportional representation. Votes went to certain candidates via multiple and proxy voting in polling booths as well as via online voting. The left-wing party tried to settle the problem and clear its name by having the leadership resign. The 14 candidates who ran in the primary were asked to forgo their nominations. But Lee and Kim resisted.
The problem with the UPP incident is that the investigation findings were not entirely irrefutable. Lee and the larger faction denied any wrongdoing in two separate investigations. The head of the second probe quit in protest of the results of the investigation, which named no one as responsible. The report only concluded the primary had been mismanaged and unjust without specifying who was behind it. But the party nevertheless decided to oust Lee and Kim for resisting the party order requiring them to resign.
The incident is a party fiasco and fallout from a power struggle between two factions. How can outsiders make a judgment when even insiders cannot decide which side is lying? Those who are seeking to delist the two controversial members insist they are not qualified to represent the people because they were elected with an unfair system. They have a point.
But the problem is that they have not been proven guilty. Fact-finding and judgment should be made by prosecutors, not legislators. If the ongoing prosecution investigation finds them involved in the vote-rigging and the court delivers a guilty sentence with fines, the two would lose their seats under the public office law.
Otherwise, the two members are legally entitled to their positions. It is wrong for other party members using their majority seats to kick them out. It not only goes against convention, but also can set a poor precedent. No legislators will be secure if the political majority overrides law and reason. The action could backfire on them as well.
The UPP’s list for proportional representation has 20 names. Of them, 14 were elected through the primary and six were strategically nominated by the party. The party’s leadership had been impotent in overseeing the primary. It can hardly be relied upon to nominate good candidates.
There are also questionable candidates among the six handpicked by the leadership, including a judge who publicly ridiculed the country’s president. Kang Jong-heon received a death sentence at the Supreme Court over a Korean student spy incident in Japan in 1975. Kim Hyeon-jang, a student activist in the 1980s who had been in the same prison, said that Kang confessed to him that the latter had been trained as a spy in North Korea. If Lee and Kim lost their legislative seats, the judge and spy suspect would replace them according to the party list order. Would they be better for the national interest?
From an ideological and national security perspective, Representative Lee would score poorly. He served a jail term for underground anti-government activities. He was redeemed, but seemingly maintains his faith in North Korean ideology. He claims the hereditary power succession in North Korea should be understood from the state’s unique viewpoint. He points out pro-America is more dangerous than pro-North Korea and denies the legitimacy of South Korea’s national anthem.
Many are outraged to think such a figure lives on a monthly salary from taxpayers and makes laws on behalf of the people.
Unfit as he may be, he is a legal member of the National Assembly. As long as the law permits, Korean society must accept him whether it likes it or not.
Even if he is a villain, he must not be treated villainously. This is fundamental to a free democracy.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin