Amid growing criticism on sexual misconduct in political circles and the need to enact laws to bring an end to these acts, the National Assembly has not even deliberated on related bills. There were 11 bills related to limiting electoral eligibility of sex offenders or holding the affiliated political party responsible for the costs for re/by-elections tabled at the 19th to 21st National Assembly sessions, based on The Dong-A Ilbo’s analysis of the Public Official Election Act and Public Fund Law. Not even one of them had been handled, discarded or forgotten.
A total of 83.8 billion won of public money will be poured into host by-elections to elect mayors in Seoul and Busan, which are held as the two former mayors Park Won-soon and Oh Keo-don stepped down due to sexual misconduct. It is not just a matter of money. The level of sexual morality and human rights awareness of politicians is simply shocking to the people, particularly as recent scandals related to the leader of the Justice Party, which had advocated for women’s rights and gender equality than any other political party.
The issue of limiting electoral eligibility of sex offenders had been raised at the Special Commission for Political Reform in 2018, but dropped on grounds that “it should be determined by the people who elected for them.” Lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties passed laws to restrict appointment of sex offenders in public servants, soldiers, police and teaching positions. It is irony that they apply strict standards in other professions while being lenient on their own. This resulted in six sex offenders running for the general elections back in 2018.
Both ruling and opposition parties have only raised the issue of the by-election costs but never discussed the matter thoroughly. Back in 2017, the Political Party Advancement Commission for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea announced that it would legislate plans to hold the political party and candidate accountable to cover election expenses if re-elections or bi-elections are held as a result of corruption. In the 21st National Assembly, the People Power Party tabled a law tentatively titled “Park Won-soon and On Keo-deon Prevention Law”, but there has been no progress at all.
There is growing public criticism on the parliament’s empty actions, turning a blind eye on the discussions that should not be ignored. Even President Moon Jae-in has advocated the leading party’s decision to nominate unqualified candidates by amending the party’s constitution, claiming that the “party constitution may change.”
Both ruling and opposition parties need to discuss in detail on the possibility of limiting electoral eligibility of sex offenders, holding them accountable on electoral costs or excluding them from candidate nomination. The people’s patience on sexual misconducts is being ignored wearing out.