Saenuri abandons nominations

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Saenuri abandons nominations

The ruling Saenuri Party announced it would abandon the practice of nominating a party candidate for local elections, including the upcoming by-election in April, as part of their efforts to root out the entrenched money-for-nomination practice.

Suh Byung-soo, the head of the party’s nomination committee, told reporters yesterday that “the committee was determined not to pick any candidates for positions in local governments and councils, in order to keep the promise we made during the presidential election campaign.”

In the April by-election, there are two vacancies for local government heads - the Gapyeong County Office, Gyeonggi, and Hamyang County Office, South Gyeongsang - and three for local council members - Seodaemun District of western Seoul, Goyang city, Gyeonggi, and Yangsan city, South Gyeongsang.

It has been a pervasive practice in Korean politics for a wealthy or high-profile figure in a certain region to bribe senior members of a political party who are responsible for nominating the party’s candidates for general elections, particularly for a position in that party’s strongholds.

Last year, a Saenuri Party member, Hyun Young-hee, received a two-year jail term with three years of probation for election bribery. She gave 300 million won ($269,954) in bribes to a senior member of the nomination committee, to be selected as the Saenuri candidate for a constituency in Busan, a traditional stronghold of conservatives. The Saenuri expelled her in August.

The Democratic United Party was also not an exception. Yang Gyeong-suk, a 51-year-old director of liberal Internet site Radio 21, was sentenced to three years in jail for election bribery in February.

She admitted during questioning that she received a total of 4.08 billion won from three DUP members and promised to secure them nominations by using her broad range of connections with senior party members.

The practice unleashed public criticism because it hinders those who are indeed dedicated to the local community from running a local election. It also caused political fights among local council members who advocate only for their party’s benefit.

In November 2012, Park Geun-hye, running as the Saenuri’s presidential candidate, announced a package of measures to reform the politics-as-usual practices in Korea, including abandoning the party’s privilege to select candidates for local governments, councils and geographic seats in the legislature.

However, the ruling and opposition parties will still maintain their nomination for the three legislative seats, including the one in Nowon C District, northeastern Seoul, where former presidential runner Ahn Cheol-soo has declared his bid.

The reform plan says the Saenuri will also convene a nationwide primary for legislative seats, where any eligible voters can cast their ballots.

Both the Saenuri and DUP have not nominated any candidates for the district yet, while the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party and the Progressive Justice Party have.

By Kim Hee-jin []
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