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By-election Costs

Posted November. 02, 2010 11:31,   


Residents of Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang Province, have had five governors since 2005. Three governors-elect had to step down due to illegal campaigning and corruption, so three by-elections in addition to local elections were needed. In the by-elections of December 2007, two residents committed suicide after they were alleged to have taken gifts, while another 1,400 received legal sanctions. Despite fiscal independence of just 10 percent, the county has spent 500 million won (447,288 U.S. dollars) in election costs every year.

Aimed at filling vacant posts in parliament and municipal and provincial governments, by-elections have been regularly conducted twice a year since 2000. Over the past 11 years, 22 by-elections have cost 171 billion won (150 million dollars) of taxpayers’ money. That amount is just from state coffers and money spent by municipal and provincial governments as calculated by the National Election Commission. The figure would grow further if both legal and illegal money used by candidates, their families, relatives, sponsors and parties that the candidates belong to are added. Oh Geun-sup, the former mayor of Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province who committed suicide last year, is known to have had an election campaign debt of 6 billion won (5 million dollars). This represented just a small part of secret election costs.

Vacant posts in parliament and municipal and provincial governments have to be filled immediately since the former represent the public and the latter represent residents of a specific area. But taxpayers should not have to shoulder all the costs created by illegal actions by candidates. Election costs should be the responsibility of the candidates who committed the crimes or the respective parties they belong to. Under law, those elected via bribery or illegal campaigning are subject to prosecution and lose their seat. Despite such strong regulations, illegal activities show no signs of abating mostly due to the lack of a self-purification mindset in political parties.

In Japan, when a member of the lower or upper house of parliament loses his or her post, the runner-up who received a sixth of valid votes becomes the successor. In France, a candidate runs in local elections with a reserve candidate who fills the former’s post if it is vacated. Korea must reexamine its own election system and reduce the damage and rampant costs of by-elections. The low voter turnout in by-elections of 20-30 percent is also a problem because of limits in representing the overall residents of an area. It is also a waste of time and money for the ruling and opposition parties to be so preoccupied at winning by-elections by considering them a mid-term evaluation of the incumbent administration.