The people have spoken

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The people have spoken

The April 29 by-elections are over. Despite the fact that only four legislative seats were contested, the leaderships of both the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy were engaged in heated campaigns for victory. But urgent national priorities were pushed to the sidelines.

The by-elections were relatively minor as an appraisal of the Park Geun-hye administration. In Gwangju, the home turf of liberal democracy in Korea, and Gwanak-gu, Seoul, divisions in the opposition camp were more important than any appraisal of the government. But an earthquake rearranged the scenery overnight. The Sung Wan-jong payoff scandal returned the specter of illegal lobbying in our society, laying bare the immorality of our political circles as seen in the enduring collusion between politicians and business tycoons. The alleged collusion involved a previous administration that granted special pardons to Sung, and the current government was tarnished as well. That corruption is a national shame.

There are many challenges going forward. First, we need much tougher restrictions on presidential pardons. Regardless of some tangible improvements like the establishment of a committee for special pardons, the Lee Myung-bak administration continued to abuse special pardons when the need arose.

Political funds for presidential campaigns or primaries are illegal as long as they are not reported to the National Election Commission. Politicians should reduce the demand for funds for presidential elections. The prosecution’s investigation of Sung’s payoffs has already revealed that illegal lobbying takes place through legal channels of political funding. Former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo received hefty donations from candidates for local elections. The ruling party came up with the idea of banning its lawmakers from holding book launches, a major fundraising route in Korea. But that’s not enough. The Political Reform Committee in the legislature must pass the proper legislation.

Suspicions over the payoffs continue. The prosecution must get to the bottom of the scandal and reveal the truth behind Sung’s special pardons. The president must apologize to the people for all the chaos instead of letting her aide speak to the nation on her behalf. She needs to gain momentum for her ambitious reform drive, including the civil service pension program. The president and the ruling and opposition parties must reform our society. That’s the message from this election.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, Page 34

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