Candidates’ shameful backgroundsThe June 4 elections will replace 3,952 public officials. A total of 8,994 candidates registered with the National Election Commission to run in the upcoming local elections for gubernatorial, mayoral, council, district head, district council, and education superintendent posts. About 4 out of 10 hopefuls have criminal records and at least one hasn’t done or finished military service, which is compulsory for all Korean male citizens. The dubious background is worse among candidates running for gubernatorial and mayoral offices. Those with a criminal history made up 45 percent of the total and those who had not completed military duty recorded 22 percent.
There may be many reasons for the political hopefuls not to have gone into the military. But a lack of experience in military service among local government heads in a country constantly facing war threats from North Korea raises questions about trustworthiness in contingency situations. Governors and mayors must head local defense councils. The councils command not only the military, but also prosecutors, police, and private telecommunications and utility companies during emergency times. The heads of the councils also play leading roles in various military drills.
Until the last elections, only criminal records of candidates who had served jail terms were released, but revised election regulations now require the release of lesser punishments starting at penalties of 1 million won ($979). Many candidates had grave records of breaking national security, political funding and election laws. Some claim they have already paid their dues for past deeds. But that does not make them entirely clean.
Members of the local council draw up acts and regulations for local governance and the heads of the local administrations execute them. They must produce and carry out various laws and regulations. Authority could lose credibility if it is under the control of people with criminal backgrounds.
It is a citizen’s duty to pay taxes but some candidates have paid less than 500,000 won in taxes in the past five years.
Local elections generally get less attention from voters than legislative and presidential elections. The upcoming election campaign has been low key amid political apathy and resentment following the Sewol ferry sinking. Background information on military service, criminal history, and tax payment is available in individual candidate files. Leadership in local administrative districts must be morally just and clean. Voters must make sure of this.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 19, Page 34