Election commission’s neutrality

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Election commission’s neutrality

In a stunning development in the history of the National Election Commission (NEC), President Moon Jae-in has accepted the resignation of Cho Hai-ju, a standing member of the election watchdog, after rejecting his resignation earlier. The president made the decision in the face of vehement opposition to the extension of Cho’s tenure to three more years from 2,900 members of the commission. A standing commissioner of the NEC traditionally left the commission after finishing his or her three-year term over the past 22 years with no exceptions. Cho submitted his resignation to the president last month, but Moon did not accept it.

Cho, a former aide to Moon’s election campaign, has been at the center of controversy over the commission’s biased campaign management over the past three years. Opponents linked Moon’s decision to extend his tenure to the need for him to help the ruling Democratic Party (DP) win in the March 9 presidential election. Out of deepening concerns about the possibility of impartial management of the presidential election, all senior officials at the NEC sent Cho a letter urging him to voluntarily step down, followed by a strong demand last week from a delegation of officials representing 17 local chapters of the election watchdog.

The NEC’s internal communication platform has been inundated with pleas for Cho’s resignation in an honorable way. The move translates into an unprecedented collective action by members of the commission. Their concerted action reflects the level of their disappointments at the way the president behaved in election season.

Though Cho has left the NEC, concerns remain. Moon Sang-boo — the commission’s former secretary general who was recommended as a commissioner by the opposition People Power Party (PPP) — withdrew his bid last week due to the DP’s opposition. In an alarming turn, the upcoming presidential election could be held without any commissioners recruited by the PPP. Currently, seven out of the eight commissioners, excluding the NEC head who is a chief justice, are pro-government figures. Worse, the Blue House reportedly tries to replace Cho with one of the commissioners nominated by Moon. If the rumor is true, that constitutes a brazen infringement on the independence of the NEC.

The commission is a constitutional body established to manage elections fairly. And yet the president broke the rule and rejected Cho’s resignation in the beginning to shake the very foundation of democracy.

Moon must apologize and promise to not repeat such an unfathomable act. The NEC also must resist the Blue House’s possible attempt to damage the neutrality of the election watchdog.
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