Go to contents

Election Fraud Rattles Tiny Rural County

Posted January. 14, 2008 07:21,   


“I am very afraid if customers ask about election fraud.”

So said each taxi driver yesterday waiting at a taxi stand in front of Cheongdo Station in Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang Province. They said they are worrying over the impact of an election rigging scandal.

“Cheongdo has become infamous for a bad happening,” one cabbie said. “Passengers who come out from the station look different than ordinary.”

The county of 50,000 residents is panic-stricken with the start of an investigation into a scandal involving Cheongdo’s mayoral election. After arresting five people, police have requested arrest warrants for nine others.

One was detained in custody without warrant, and two others who had helped the campaign for incumbent Cheongdo Mayor Jeong Han-tae committed suicide. As a rumor has spread that thousands of residents will be interrogated, the otherwise tranquil rural area has been thrown into chaos.

A 60-something resident refused comment on the incident, saying, “Never broach the subject of elections.” People in the county were also shocked by the news that a campaigner killed himself by drinking pesticide at a peach grove.

“Townspeople who had lived with him harmoniously were hit hardest by the news,” the resident said. “How could this happen? I am totally at a loss.”

A town official said, “If the Grand National Party had nominated its candidate for this region, it would have stirred up huge opposition but the candidate would never have bribed thousands of residents.”

The counties of Cheongsong and Cheongdo and the city of Yeongcheon held elections on the same day as the presidential election. The party fielded a candidate in only Cheongsong to prevent nomination corruption.

In a three-way competition including an independent candidate, Jeong won with 34.3 percent of the vote (10,130), defeating the first and second runner-ups who gained 8,500 votes each.

As police expanded their investigation, rumor spread that almost 5,000 residents were bribed into voting for Jeong.

With the large number of people suspected of involvement in the rigging, some say every other household will have convicted criminals. Jeong Soo-bae, who was in charge of managing election funds, is in hiding. If he is arrested and talks, things could spiral out of control.

Jeong Soo-bae is a relative of the mayor and is known to have given bribes to residents. A reward of 500 million won is offered for help leading to his capture.

Representatives of Cheongdo’s resident and civic groups recently visited their province’s police agency and appealed for clemency. They said townspeople never considered receiving envelopes each containing 50,000 won to be illegal.

Authorities are also in a difficult situation. Under election law, they must impose fines on those receiving money or other gifts during an election campaign 50 times the amount they received, or 2.5 million won.

With two campaigners who had received millions of won dead of suicide and the number of potential violators skyrocketing, police might find it hard to ignore the anxiety swirling throughout the entire county.

Police said they will arrest some 20 people who participated in the campaign while showing clemency to residents who took bribes.

“The penalty of 50 times the amount of bribe is unrealistic,” a police officer said. “To stabilize the community, we are seeking better solutions in cooperation with the election commission.

“As election law should be strictly respected, we cannot let people go unpunished. Rather, we will impose smaller amount of penalties.”

Police raided the mayor’s house and office Friday in the final stage of his indictment. They said they obtained sufficient evidence that shows he was directly involved in passing out the bribes.