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25,000 Candidates, 2,904 Seats

Posted January. 26, 2006 03:03,   


An election broker recently said to about 10 would-be candidates for the local elections in Yecheon, Gyeongbuk Province: “If you want to be nominated as a candidate, now is the time. With the Lunar New Year approaching, lawmakers will be spending money on thousands of occasions.” Afterwards, the would-be candidates handed over 15 million won to a supporters’ association for the lawmaker of the local constituency.

After confirming this, the National Election Commission (NEC) turned the would-be candidates in to prosecutors on January 24.

One person who is preparing to run for district leader said, “I was shocked at a rumor circulated late last year that I was living with my sister-in-law,” adding, “The police and the NEC told me there is no way to deal with those kinds of rumors unless there is evidence. It is very frustrating.”

In the run-up to the local elections scheduled for May, heated, illegal pre-election campaigning is already underway. As this type of campaigning is expected to intensify around the Lunar New Year nationwide, the NEC is on alert.

A rumor is circulating among would-be candidates for local parliamentary offices in some large cities that the appropriate amount of nomination contributions in the form of donations is between 100 million to 200 million won.

Experts explain that these early signs of illegal pre-electioneering are due to expectations that an extensive shake-up among presidents of local self-governments is ahead because many of existing presidents are facing term limits. Experts also cite this year’s parliamentary salary increases as another reason.

The NEC predicts that about 130 candidates will compete for 16 local self-government presidencies, and approximately 20,000 candidates will run for 2,888 local parliamentary seats.

The NEC said that about 2,100 cases of illegal pre-election campaigning have been reported as of January 25.

Most of those cases involve tangible illegal behavior, however, such as giving out money or food or distributing leaflets. There is no way to deal with secretive illegal pre-election campaigns, including reporting false information about prospective competitors, spreading rumors through word of mouth, and advertising a candidate by pretending to conduct opinion polls.

In particular, it is hard for the NEC to effectively monitor local elections because of a manpower shortage. It has to manage the elections for the presidents of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives, the Korea Livestock Cooperative Federation, the National Forestry Cooperative Federation in about 600 areas (which will continue into March), and elections for a number of university presidents.

“It is effectively impossible to detect illegal nomination contributions, bribing voters, and operating large-scale illegal private organizations unless there is some whistle blowing,” a NEC official said. “We intend to increase voter interest by pushing forward a revision of the election law for public office.”

Under the circumstances, the NEC is focusing on coming up with effective measures, including a possible 10x increase in the reward money for reporting illegal pre-election campaigning up to 500 million won.