Time to reinvent the NECNoh Jeong-hee, chair of the National Election Commission (NEC), has finally offered to resign over the sloppy supervision of early voting ahead of the March 9 presidential election. Her aloofness and irresponsibility had drawn scorn from both the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition People Power Party (PPP).
In a closed meeting of the commissioners, Noh belatedly expressed how she felt liability for poor management of the early votes by a number of voters who tested positive for Covid-19. Against a wave of strong protests, she had vowed to “do better” and defied pressure to resign.
Looking back, the latest presidential election was the most poorly managed by governments and brought disgrace to the national election-administering body. The NEC lost public confidence and drew serious questions about its neutrality and fairness.
The NEC had underestimated the danger of voters coming into contact with infected voters during the early-vote period. It did not pay heed to medical experts’ warnings and failed to ready itself fully against possible confusion and mishaps. Voters who tested positive for Covid-19 even had to give their ballots to officials at the polling stations. Some ballots were carried around in shopping bags and boxes to be delivered to NEC headquarters.
Yet Noh did not care to come to work during the early-voting period that fell on the weekend. Kim Se-hwan, NEC secretary general at the time, came under fire for describing a voter’s protest to a supervisor for his demand for putting the ballots by infected voters in an envelope instead of directly into the ballot box as “causing a racket.”
He resigned amid favoritism allegations around his son for his employment at the Incheon Metropolitan Election Commission, a local office of the NEC. Internal inspection also discovered wrongdoings by his son in making business trips and moving to his father’s official residence to live.
The NEC must be fair and neutral particularly at times of polarization in politics. If the referee is suspected of being unfair, election results could be challenged and cause social confusion. In that case, election cannot bloom as the flower of democracy. A new chair and permanent commissioner must be filled by figures both the DP and PPP can agree on their sense of neutrality.
The NEC must demonstrate its change in the June 1 local elections. It must take extra care so as not to repeat the basket-carrying fiasco since the Covid-19 danger is not yet over. People will be closely watching how the NEC endeavors to regain public trust.