Supporters of minor party candidate protest exclusion from polls, debate
Supporters of fringe conservative presidential candidate Huh Kyoung-young staged a heated protest on Thursday at the National Election Commission's headquarters in Gwanak District, southern Seoul, over the candidate's exclusion from pre-election surveys and the presidential candidates' television debate.
Clad in red and carrying triangular flags branded with Huh’s National Revolutionary Dividends Party, the protesters gathered outside the election commission’s headquarters beginning at 1 p.m. on Thursday, quickly growing from 50 to 100 people within an hour.
Holding up picket signs labelling the commission as “unfair” and denouncing unequal media coverage of Huh, the protesters demanded his inclusion in the presidential candidates’ televised debate, scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. Thursday.
The debate will be aired by KBS and will feature four candidates: Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party and Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party.
As the protests wore on, Huh’s supporters became increasingly vocal in their demands, with some shouting at one point that they should “blow up” the election commission’s headquarters.
Huh himself submitted a second injunction against Thursday’s televised debate to the Seoul Western District Court in Mapo District, western Seoul, after his first injunction was thrown out by the court on grounds that Huh did not fulfill the election commission’s requirement of at least 5 percent support in opinion surveys to be invited to the debate.
The National Election Commission has vowed to respond sternly to the disturbance caused by the protesters.
"We will exercise zero tolerance regarding illegal acts of disturbance, disorder and obstruction that hinder the execution of official duties at the commission’s headquarters and the ballot booth,” the commission said.
Under the Public Official Election Act, individuals convicted of committing disorder or obstruction at the commission’s headquarters or polling stations are subject to imprisonment between one and 10 years or a fine between 5 million won ($4,150) and 30 million won.
The Gwanak District Office also said it will investigate the protesters on suspicion of violating Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings.
Under current social distancing rules, a maximum of 49 people can be present at a rally if the group includes unvaccinated individuals. Should the number exceed 50 people, all present must be vaccinated.
An official from the Gwanak District Office who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity said, “We will check the vaccination status of all who participated in the rally. If any of them are found to be unvaccinated, we will levy penalties and take other appropriate measures.”
Thursday’s protest by Huh’s supporters is the latest in a series of rallies outside the election commission’s headquarters in response to the candidate’s exclusion from opinion polling and the candidates’ debate.
While surveys on political candidates in Korea are regulated to ensure their questions are worded neutrally and they meet statistical standards of accuracy, such as margin of error and confidence interval, the choice of candidates named in surveys is left to the discretion of the media and polling companies.
In a particularly violent incident on Jan 24, one of Huh’s supporters drove a truck into the election commission’s headquarters and doused it in gasoline with the intent of setting it on fire. He was restrained before he could set it alight and is now being investigated by police on charges of conspiring to commit arson.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]