A tribute to clean electionsThe Constitutional Court has ruled that an article of the election law which defines an ex post facto bribe as being illegal is constitutional. The decision has ended all controversy over the legality of the Supreme Court’s one-year jail sentence for Kwak No-hyun, former superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, for a bribery conviction. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is particularly meaningful as it goes beyond the individual level and is applicable to all other elections.
In a 5-3 ruling yesterday, the Constitutional Court upheld the legitimacy of Article 1, Clause 232 in the Public Official Election Act which makes illegal the act of giving bribes to rivals after they drop out of races. The high court did not buy Kwak’s argument that punishing an ex post facto bribe not only violates the principle of avoiding excessive prohibitions by judges but also infringes on citizens’ basic rights. The court underscored that the ruling will help discourage candidates from expecting compensation for withdrawals from elections and boost people’s confidence in fair elections.
The Constitutional Court’s decision is an extension of the Supreme Court’s conviction of Kwak for bribery. In September, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that sentenced Kwak to one year in prison for violating the Public Official Election Act because he gave a bribe of 200 million won ($186,000) to his opponent, Park Myong-gee, then a professor at Seoul National University of Education, after he dropped out of the race for the post.
Kwak refused to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling by insisting that a one-year sentence for an act of offering money in a spirit of goodwill and without a deal agreed to in advance was wrong and political. That led to a concerted effort by the liberal camp to bring the issue to the Constitutional Court. But the court’s final ruling has again confirmed that very strict standards should be applied to an act of offering money or positions to candidates in an election. We should take special note of the Constitutional Court’s judgment that “given people’s growing expectations for a better election culture without fraudulent practices, the Supreme Court’s conviction is abundantly justified.”
With all legal procedures wrapped up, no one can find fault with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Unless candidates for public position and the voters that ultimately put them in those positions are totally free of temptation or confusion, the national goal of having free and fair elections in our hard-fought-for democracy is impossible. It is time for all participants in our elections to share the determination to make our elections clean.