Contrary verdict in UPP vote case

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Contrary verdict in UPP vote case

A Gwangju court yesterday convicted four members of the Unified Progressive Party for rigging a party primary for proportional representatives in last year’s general election.

The verdict came only nine days after a Seoul court acquitted 45 UPP members accused of the same charge, calling into question the credibility of the judicial branch’s contrasting decisions and philosophies.

The Gwangju District Court yesterday found four members of the leftist party guilty of rigging a party primary and fined a 31-year-old member, surnamed Joo, 1 million won ($938). The court ordered the other three members to pay 300,000 won in fines.

The three were charged with violating election laws by casting ballots online using other members’ security codes, received via mobile phones, which gave them access to the Web site.

“The four principles of elections, that they are general, direct, equal and secret, which are stipulated in the Constitution, are the fundamental principles of the modern election system,” said the court in its verdict. “[Therefore], they must apply to a party primary,” continued the court.

The court’s ruling yesterday was a stark contrast to a verdict handed down by the Seoul Central District Court on Oct. 7, which said that the four principles of the elections do not apply to an internal party election.

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

The Gwangju court ruled the four UPP members also illegally interfered with the voting process by casting ballots on behalf of someone else, a charge that was not recognized by the Seoul court earlier.

The Seoul court ruled the proxy voting did not constitute illegal interference with the process because it was not committed in a systematic manner, but instead through personal relationships among party members.

The Seoul court’s acquittal of the 45 UPP members raised the ire of the ruling Saenuri Party. Choi Kyung-hwan, the Saenuri floor leader, remarked that the court’s decision was against common sense.

Through the allegedly rigged primary, Representative Lee Seok-ki of the UPP, who is indicted for plotting to overthrow the government and is now awaiting trial, won a proportional representative seat in the April 2012 general election. Candidates for proportional representatives are seated in the Assembly depending on the share of the total vote their party wins. The UPP won six proportional seats in the April 2012 elections.

In all, 510 UPP members were indicted for proxy voting in other parts of the country. Of the total, 11 members have been convicted so far. As of yesterday, courts throughout the country have handed down 13 verdicts on proxy voting. Of the 13, only the Seoul court acquitted the UPP members.

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