Playing the waiting game

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Playing the waiting game

The author is a national team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Public Official Election Law stipulates punishments on 29 types of illicit election activities. The law applies to all public elections from the presidential election to parliamentary and local elections. Before the enactment of the law in March 1994, there had been separate laws on the presidential election and parliamentary elections.

According to the prosecution last week, as many as 2,001 were charged of violating the law during the campaign to elect the 20th president in May. The count is up 127.9 percent from 878 during the presidential election five years ago. The surge owed much to 810 accused of slander and violating Article 250 on the spreading of false information, compared with 164 of the same charge in the previous presidential election.

The statute of limitation on the Public Official Election Law has long been disputed. In Germany, the United States, and other advanced countries, the statute of limitation on election law is the same three to five years as in the general civil law. In Korea, the statute of limitation on the election law is only six months after the vote day. The limit on legal proceedings on election violations was set relatively short to hasten the process to stabilize the legal status of an elected person. But six months is too short to accumulate evidence and prove charges. Law enforcement officials complain that the biggest headache is incompliance by politicians to summons for questioning. Some cases are filed only one or two months before the statute of limitations expires.

Although there are calls to scrap the statute of limitations or extend the period, changes are not easy. Politicians who could be influenced by the change won’t likely agree. When the first parliamentary election law was proposed in 1947, the statute of limitation was set at one year after the vote. But when the law was revised in 1950, the statute of limitation was shortened to three months. It took about 40 years for the statute of limitation to extend to six months. If politicians want to avoid the criticism of hiding behind the short statute of limitation, they must dutifully comply to questioning and trial proceedings.
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