UPP members found guilty of rigging primaries

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UPP members found guilty of rigging primaries

The nation’s highest court yesterday upheld convictions involving multiple members of the minority opposition Unified Progressive Party in a primary election-rigging case.

The Supreme Court found two members of the leftist party guilty of rigging the UPP’s primary which selected candidates for proportional representatives on the eve of the April 2012 legislative elections.

A 53-year-old UPP official was prosecuted on charges of casting mobile votes on behalf of 35 party members during the primary. And another 39-year-old official was indicted on charges of voting on behalf of 10 party members.

The Supreme Court ruled that they had violated the principle of direct, secret and equal elections. They each received a suspended one-year prison term.

Two other UPP members were also convicted for assisting the election-rigging. They were each ordered to pay a 3 million won ($2,825) fine.

The Supreme Court also convicted a 56-year-old UPP member of casting electronic votes on behalf of 11 voters.

The rulings are expected to serve as a precedent in upcoming trials related to the primary, which was allegedly rigged by the UPP members last year.

The prosecution investigated the election-rigging accusations surrounding the troubled party and indicted a total of 510 UPP members. Among those, trials are still ongoing for 490.

Controversy erupted last month when the Seoul Central District Court acquitted 45 UPP members of the election law violation charges, deciding that a primary held inside a party is not governed by the principles of a direct election.

In the other 11 trials at district courts nationwide, 36 people faced convictions.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to quiet that controversy.

“It’s a relief that the Supreme Court has set a clear example against some biased judgments,” said Koh Young-ju, a lawyer who once served as the head of the Seoul Southern District Court.

“It is common sense that a party’s internal primary must be regarded as a direct election.”

In the April 2012 general election, the UPP became the third-largest power inside the National Assembly, winning 13 seats including six proportional lawmakers.

Among the six proportional representatives-elect, three were candidates chosen through the primary, while the others were appointed.

After last year’s general election, accusations emerged that the primary was rigged to allow candidates like Lee Seok-ki ? who allegedly have North Korean sympathies ? to become lawmakers. As a result, seven lawmakers left the UPP in September 2012, protesting the dominance of the radical faction. Representative Lee refused to forfeit his seat.

In September, senior members of the UPP, including Representative Lee, were indicted on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government on behalf of North Korea by creating an anti-state underground group.

Following the scandal, the administration of President Park Geun-hye took the unprecedented step earlier this month to dissolve the leftist party by asking the Constitutional Court to rule on its fate.

The ruling Saenuri Party yesterday made an attempt to expel Lee from the National Assembly by holding a special committee on ethics.

While Saenuri lawmakers attended the meeting, the main opposition Democratic Party boycotted the session.

The Democratic Party invoked the revised National Assembly Act and demanded that an agenda coordination committee be established to review the Saenuri Party’s motion to expel Lee. The move has effectively stalled the deliberations and a vote on the motion against Lee for up to 90 days.

The six-member panel should be formed with an equal number of lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties in order to coordinate an agenda.

They have 90 days to discuss an item, unless they can vote on it and pass it with a two-third majority for a formal deliberation at a committee.

The Saenuri Party yesterday criticized the Democrats for abusing the system.

“The DP is conspicuously protecting Lee,” said Saenuri Representative Yeom Dong-yeol. “It appeared to be the DP’s desperate attempt to restore its alliance with the UPP.”

The Democrats rejected that statement. “We asked for the mediation committee because we found no ground to review the motion to expel the lawmaker whose trial is still ongoing,” said Democratic Representative Park Beok-kye. “We have no intention of protecting Lee.”

BY SESR MYO-JA, CHOI HYUN-CHUL [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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