UPP verdict irks Saenuri

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UPP verdict irks Saenuri

Saenuri Party leaders criticized a recent Seoul district court judge for acquitting a group of Unified Progressive Party members who had been charged with rigging a party primary. The judge said there was no law against doing so.

“This ruling is a decision against the common sense of the people and hard to understand,” Choi Kyung-hwan, the party’s floor leader, said at a party meeting yesterday. “Proxy voting by UPP members violates the four principles of elections.

“If we keep this bad precedent, there will be another rigging scandal and proxy voting,” Choi said.

On Monday, the Seoul Central District Court acquitted 45 UPP members who cast ballots on behalf of other members, or ordered others to do so, in the March 2012 party election to select candidates for proportional representation seats in the National Assembly. Those candidates are seated in the Assembly depending on the share of the total vote their party attracts.

The court said, “A party primary does not necessarily follow the principles in a direct election because the law allows a party autonomy to run its primary elections. The UPP election managers should take the fundamental responsibility for proxy voting because they did not set rules or take measures to prevent it.”

The 45 defendants included Jo Yang-won, head of the Social Trend Institute, a polling company, who has also been indicted on a much more serious charge, that of rebellion against the South Korean government. Representative Lee Seok-ki, who won the largest number of votes in the party’s proportional primary election and was seated in the Assembly, faces the same charge.

Investigations later revealed that the primary was rigged, but Lee refused to give up his seat. The UPP won six proportional seats in the June 2012 legislative elections.

Several district courts in other cities have also considered similar cases; in all, 442 UPP members had been indicted for proxy voting in other parts of the country.

Two of those courts have convicted other UPP members of violating the nation’s election laws.

In July, the Gwangju District Court convicted two UPP members on the same charges and fined them each 2 million won ($1,864). In January, the Daegu District Court gave a six-month jail term and two years of probation to a UPP member.

Prosecutors also protested the ruling of the Seoul court, arguing that the four principles of elections - that they are general, direct, equal and secret - should also be enforced in party primaries.

The prosecution said most of the indicted UPP members cast ballots online by using other members’ security codes that allowed visitors at the primary election Web site to vote.

“While other courts agreed with the charges, the Seoul court’s weird ruling is a serious case that could shake the foundations of the country,” said Chung Woo-taik, a Saenuri leader.

“This erroneous ruling should be fixed by an appeals court,” said Shim Jae-chul, another party leader.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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