Getting tough on political crimesThe Supreme Court affirmed tougher guidelines for election-related crimes, which may have reverberations on the campaign trail leading to the December presidential election. The changes may also demand an equally stern stance from prosecutors in an election season.
As a matter of fact, election-related trials can be very sensitive. The judiciary must be strict but unbiased and use its judgment to set order. But at the same time it cannot work to undermine an official elected by the people. The new rules for judges, therefore, are crucial.
Under the new guidelines, judges are advised to impose a fine of 1 million won ($880) or more or even a jail term for all major election offenses. A guilty ruling could also strip the offender of his or her elected post. For example, the act of bribery for nomination or during an election leads to a jail sentence.
The judiciary has also been told to impose fines or jail sentences on those who spread false rumors and potentially strip guilty candidates of elected office. The stricter guidelines will help to clean the election trail of bribes and negative campaigning.
As many would argue, lenient sentencing for lawmakers who violate election regulations has so far been blamed for persistent illegal electioneering and election-related corruption. To raise the effectiveness of the new guidelines, those who commit election crimes must be punished quickly and without hesitation. At the same time, the court should continue to correct and modify the guidelines when loopholes are found.
With the courts following stricter sentencing guidelines, the fate of candidates could fall even more squarely in the hands of the prosecution. Some fear that the election outcome - or the legislative seats of political parties - could change depending on charges brought by the National Election Commission or prosecutors. The prosecution in January pledged to achieve transparency and objectivity in investigations of election-related crimes.
But due to its poor track record, many civilians still question the fairness and neutrality of prosecutors’ investigations of election-related allegations. The prosecution should try to raise credibility by administering the same set of criteria in launching investigations, arresting politicians and following up with official charges. The public will continue to closely watch the judiciary’s impact on our politics.