UFP Chairman Hwang slams integrity of NEC

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UFP Chairman Hwang slams integrity of NEC

Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) on Wednesday questioned the integrity of the National Election Commission (NEC), criticizing that the voting booths were inappropriately set up and undermined the secrecy of voters’ ballot marking.

“I was shocked when I came to vote and saw the voting station,” said Hwang after he cast his ballot at the voting station in Dongseong High School of Hyehwa-dong, Jongno District of Seoul, around 8 a.m. Hwang is the UFP’s candidate for Jongno District in the general elections. “Other people were able to see my ballot marking inside the booth, but an election management worker demanded that I just vote.”

Although the secret ballot system, in which voters mark their choices in privacy on uniform ballots printed and distributed by the government, is the fundamental principle of the elections in Korea, the ballot marking booths were set up in a way that NEC officials were able to look inside, Hwang said.

He also said the voting started at 6 a.m., and he discovered the problem when he arrived at 8 a.m., complaining that many voters already cast ballots inside those booths.

Before entering a ballot marking booth, Hwang pointed out that its entrance faced the chairs where NEC workers were sitting. After he complained about invasion of privacy, the workers adjusted the three booths to relocate their entrances and then covered them.

“I will further review the situation, but if secret ballot was not fully guaranteed to the voters, it is undeniably a rigged election,” Hwang said. “I want to know if it was intentional or a mistake. I seriously suspect an attempt to rig the election.”

A UFP official said Hwang, a former prosecutor, is an expert in not only national security law, but election law. “From the perspective of an expert, he saw a serious issue.”

The election committee of the UFP said it is consulting with its legal advisers about a countermeasure.

“I have repeatedly raised issues about the fairness of the NEC,” Hwang said. “Is it really a fair NEC? I have questioned the integrity of the NEC because the president’s associate was named as its member. And now we see that my worry has become a reality.”

The UFP has consistently challenged the political neutrality of the election watchdog, ever since Cho Hae-ju, a key member of President Moon Jae-in’s election campaign, joined the NEC in January last year. The NEC is supposed to have nine members - three named by the president, three by the National Assembly and three by the Supreme Court chief justice.

But it currently only has seven members, five of which are considered pro-administration and ruling party as they were named by President Moon and Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-soo.

Earlier this week, the UFP complained that the NEC was siding with the ruling Democratic Party (DP), while obstructing its legitimate campaign activities. In Dongjak B District of Seoul, where the DP’s Lee Su-jin and the UFP’s Na Kyung-won are facing off, the NEC made the controversial decision of banning the UFP from using some slogans.

On Saturday, the NEC banned the UFP from using the slogan, “Stop the breakdown of the people’s livelihoods with your votes,” because it could be seen as being related to the current administration. It also banned the opposition party from using “Lies Out. Votes are answers,” because it could be seen as targeting DP candidate Lee. Lee had been criticized by the UFP for having lied that she was one of the judges blacklisted by the previous Park Geun-hye administration for her liberal stance.

The NEC, however, allowed the DP to use slogans such as “End the 100-year-long rule of Japanese collaborators with your votes” and “End the accumulated evils of 70 years with your votes,” despite the UFP’s complaints. It said the slogans are not related to any particular administration or presidency.

After the public called the decisions unfair, the NEC said Monday that it will not allow the DP to use the slogans. The UFP has still said it will file a criminal complaint to the prosecution to investigate the NEC’s abuse of power. “Because the NEC is participating in the election as a ruling party member, the UFP candidates are having incredible difficulty in the unlevel playing field,” the UFP said.

A UFP lawmaker has also said guidelines for early voters, distributed by a welfare center in Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam District, violated the election law by telling them to only vote for the ruling party.

According to Rep. Kwak Sang-do, leaflets were distributed to the voters on Friday, the first day of the early voting period, to vote for No. 1, the candidate number for the ruling DP in the district election. The leaflets were created and distributed by a welfare center, funded by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Gangnam District Office. Both the Seoul mayor and the Gangnam District Office head are DP members.

Most of the recipients of the leaflets were middle-aged and elderly voters with learning disablilities. The welfare center said it was trying to tell the recipients to mark the ballot just once, but used a number instead in order to help them understand better.

“Everyone and anyone who got the leaflets will think they must vote for No. 1,” Kwak said. “I demand an investigation into the local governments for their attempt to influence the election.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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