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Voters allowed to comment on policies before polls

Voters and non-governmental organizations will be able to openly criticize or praise policies of the government and political parties during the official campaign period, National Election Commission’s guidelines showed Tuesday.

Under the guidelines, which were sent out to the 16 regional election watchdogs, individual voters and NGOs are able to publicly criticize government and party policies during the 180 days before the election.

However, voters will continue to be restricted from mentioning specific political parties and the names of candidates in voicing opinions for or against them.

Until now any activities in support of or against policies during the election period were deemed to be in violation of the Public Official Election Act even when names of parties or candidates were not mentioned.

The change is said to have been made in light of the Supreme Courts’ ruling that found environmental activist Chang Dong-bin partially not guilty.

Chang was indicted on charges of violating the Public Official Election Act for criticizing the four rivers restoration project ahead of the provincial elections in 2010.

At the time the Supreme Courts ruled that as Chang’s campaign against the four rivers project did not support or work against a specific candidate, his activities cannot be seen as violating the election act.

In addition, the NEC has raised the maximum reward given to those who turn themselves into authorities for distributing gifts and cash in effort to affect the outcome of the election to 500 million won ($436,000).

Until now the highest reward given to those who expose similar schemes was 50 million won.

The reward has been raised as part of efforts to prevent illicit activities such as providing cash, materials or food in return for votes as well as the practice of hiring workers to post online comments that are advantageous to a specific candidate or political party.

According to the NEC, the identity of those who report themselves to the authorities for involvement in related activities will be protected, and those who receive any cash or materials will be fined regardless of the value of the received goods or cash.

The guidelines also include clauses for guaranteeing voters’ ability to express their political opinions as much as possible through offline means. In addition, the new guidelines also guarantee fan clubs of politicians formed independently of political parties or candidates the freedom to conduct a range of activities.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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