15 seats open in July by-elections

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15 seats open in July by-elections

A ruling party lawmaker forfeited his seat after a conviction of violating the election law was upheld by the Supreme Court, adding one more vacancy to be filled in by-elections on July 30.

That brings the number of National Assembly seats up for grabs in the by-elections to 15.

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower court’s conviction of Sung Woan-jong, a Saenuri Party representative from Seosan, South Chungcheong, for a violation of the Public Official Election Act.

Sung, 51, was indicted for holding a free music concert for about 2,000 residents in the city and donating 10 million won ($9,844) to a local civic group ahead of the general election of April 2012. At his first trial, Sung was found guilty and sentenced to a suspended eight-month jail sentence.

An appeals court reduced the punishment to a fine of 5 million won. A lawmaker must forfeit his seat if he is fined more than 1 million won in a criminal case.

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the 5 million won fine.

The justices said in their verdict that it was hard to maintain that Sung did not have any political purpose in holding the free concert. Providing money to the civic group in the constituency was also seen as a violation of the election law.

With 15 seats being contested in the July 30 by-elections, some analysts are calling them a “mini-general election.” In the 300-member assembly, the ruling Saenuri Party currently holds 147 seats, after the departure of Sung. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has 126, and two minor opposition parties, the Unified Progressive Party and the Justice Party, have five each. There are two independent lawmakers.

Another ruling party lawmaker, Chung Doo-un, who was also convicted of violating the Political Funds Act, still holds his seat.

Chung was sentenced to 10 months in prison by a lower court for being involved in a bribery case in which a fellow lawmaker, Lee Sang-deuk, received bribes from a bank chairman in 2007.

The Supreme Court sent Chung’s case back to the Seoul High Court, saying Chung was not at the office of a former Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee when he received a bribe of 450 million won from Lim Suk, chairman of the Solomon Savings Bank.

The court upheld the conviction of Lee for violating the Political Funds Act. Lee received a one year and two months jail term.

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

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