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Electing Convicts

Posted June. 12, 2010 08:27,   


Is the word “responsibility” not in the dictionary of the political world? Lee Kwang-jae, governor-elect of Gangwon Province, is a typical case of a politician’s irresponsibility. An appeals court gave him a suspended prison sentence Friday, so he will be suspended from assuming the governorship when he takes office July 1. The process of the province’s loss of its chief executive shows politicians lack a sense of responsibility.

The appeals court rejected Lee’s claim that he never took money from Chung Dae-kun, former chairman of the National Agricultural Cooperatives Federation, and Park Yeon-cha, former chairman of Taekwang Industry, because their accounts are consistent. The result of the appeal was expected given the sentence and intention of the lower court. It seems impossible that Lee and the main opposition Democratic Party did not know of his appeal’s dim prospects. So he should not have run for governor in the first place and the party should not have nominated him.

The Supreme Court’s final ruling on Lee is due in two months. Until then, he will be suspended from performing his duty as governor. If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict, Gangwon residents must wait another seven months to elect a new governor in a by-election. The nine-month administrative vacuum will surely make it hard on the province’s people. Their sense of frustration and shame will prove enormous.

The governor-elect said he will file an appeal to the Supreme Court and an injunction against the suspension, as well as submit a complaint to the Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court. His party will also seek to revise the Local Autonomy Law.

Election as a governor and a court ruling are two different things, however. Such an arrogant attitude and intent to arbitrarily apply the law for personal interest are simply inexcusable. The party and Lee might have expected his election victory to work to his advantage in the appeals court. Had he run in the election and his party nominated him on this expectation, it would represent the culmination of irresponsibility.

A by-election will cost the country billions of won (millions of U.S. dollars) in expenses. Since 2006, seven by-elections have cost 57.2 billion won (45.72 million U.S. dollars) in state funds. A new system is needed to hold elected officials and their political parties responsible for the expenses for by-elections to enhance self-responsibility in politics. The Supreme Court should give its final judgment on Lee as soon as possible to minimize the administrative vacuum in Gangwon Province.