Court seeks to get tougher with election-related crimes
By Na Jeong-ju
The Supreme Court plans to introduce tougher ruling guidelines for judges on cases concerning election-related crimes by August to ensure fair and clean campaigning.
For the 79 incumbent lawmakers who have been booked for their alleged involvement in illegal activities during the past National Assembly elections in April, this does not bode well. Under the current law, a lawmaker will be deprived of parliamentary seat if he or she receives a jail term or a fine of 1 million won or more on charges of election law violation.
According to a draft plan, adopted by a Supreme Court panel headed by former Korea University President Lee Ki-soo, Monday, judges will be recommended to give jail sentences to all election law violators, in principle.
The court said four major crimes _ bribing rival candidates, making illegal donations to buy votes, spreading false rumors against certain candidates, and using unlawful campaigning methods _ will be subject to stricter punishment.
The panel will finalize the guidelines for judges by August based on opinions from the public and legal experts.
The measure reflects public concern that light reparations for lawmakers who violated election rules have been the root cause of rampant illegal electioneering. A total of 1,096 people, including the 79 lawmakers, were charged for violating election laws during the April election, up 38.4 percent from the previous election four years ago. Of them, 39 people have been put behind bars.
Individual trials for the 79 lawmakers will begin soon. The figure is nearly twice that of 37 lawmakers who were put to trial on charges of violating election laws following the 2008 election.
“In particular, those who were found to have bribed candidates or voters will face a jail sentence without exception,” a Supreme Court spokesman said.
There will also be harsher punishments for family members of candidates and their campaign supporters who also violated rules. The present law stipulates that if a lawmaker’s family member or campaigner is fined 3 million won or more or receives a prison sentence for an election law violation, the lawmaker should give up his or her parliamentary seat.
The maximum fines for depriving a lawmaker of his or her seat will be lowered, the court said.
Last year, a group of 21 ruling and opposition lawmakers sought a revision of the laws to make it difficult to unseat lawmakers convicted of taking illegal political funds or violating election rules. Their attempt failed after a public backlash. Critics say what matters is not so much the rules, but that widespread corruption in the political sector must be acknowledged.