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Delays in election trials incapacitate a fair election

Posted October. 10, 2017 08:10,   

Updated October. 10, 2017 09:29


It has already been a year and a half since the 20th general elections were held in April last year, but as many as 17 of 36 trials, or 47.2 percent, regarding violation of the election law by lawmakers are still pending. According to the Public Official Election Act, the statute of limitations is six months and the first trial is supposed to be concluded within six months after prosecution and the second and third trials should be finished within three months after the end of the first and second trials. Therefore, the final judgment by the Supreme Court should be made for all cases by October 13. The delays in trials by the judiciary, however, are incapacitating the "6·3·3" regulation.

Kim Jong-tae from the Liberty Korea Party (formerly Saenuri Party) was indicted for violating the Election Law in relation to the 20th general elections. So far, he is the only lawmaker who lost his seat in the National Assembly by the Supreme Court's final ruling. Five lawmakersㅡ Kwon Seok-chang and Park Chan-woo from the Liberty Korea Party, Park Jun-young and Choi Myong-gil from the People's Party, and Yoon Jong-oh from the New People's Political Partyㅡhave been currently sentenced to a fine of more than one million won and are at risk of losing their seats in the National Assembly. Under the law, the election result of a lawmaker-elect who receives a fine of more than one million won will be invalidated. Lawmakers Park Jun-young and Park Chan-woo have yet to received their sentence in the second trial although it has been far over three months from their first trials.

The reason why election law violation cases should be tried without delays is to remove lawmakers who are not qualified from the National Assembly as soon as possible. To be sure, those lawmakers who try to delay trials by giving one excuse after another are to be blame. But it is also the judiciary's fault that it failed to control the accused properly. The judiciary needs to aggressively use legal authority, such as arrest and judgment by default and concentrated trial system. Some argue that the current "6·3·3" regulation is too long as it is and therefore needs to be shortened. Will it be possible to guarantee a fair election if the judiciary lets a lawmaker who is elected illegally to stay in the National Assembly for more than half of his term, let alone shortening the current regulation period?

The statute of limitations for violation of the Election Act was lastly revised to six months in 1991. The election trial should proceed quickly, but it is doubtful whether the statute of limitations needs to be fixed at six months. Offenders should be punished at any time if their wrongdoings are discovered. This will prevent them from thinking that they could be off the hook once the statute of limitations of six months is over.

It is also questionable if the court gives strict punishment to the offenders. The court gives lawmaker-elects the guilty verdict and sentences them to a fine of up to one million won, but let them keep their seats in many cases. Thirty lawmaker-elects were indicted and 15 lost their seats in the 18th general elections; 34 lawmaker-elects were indicted and 10 lost their seats in the 19th general elections; and among 36 lawmaker-elects indicted in the 20th general elections, only six lost their seats. The court should look back on itself and think whether the election environment has become fairer or the court has become more lenient.