Published : 2013-10-06 19:19
Updated : 2013-10-06 19:19
A responsible political party would think twice before nominating an ex-convict for election to public office. But no report has come from the ruling Saenuri Party that it had a heated debate before selecting Suh Chung-won as its nominee to run in a parliamentary by-election later this month.
Suh, who was sent to prison twice for raising political funds by illegal means, is free to run in the election because his right to election to public office was restored in a presidential pardon in January. But that does not mean he deserved to be nominated by the party.
Before and during the nation’s transition to democracy, parties had no qualms about nominating ex-convicts, many of them being freedom fighters whom military-backed dictatorships had sent to prison. Also included among them were those who had breached political funding laws. Their nominations were tolerated, probably because campaign funding woefully lacked transparency during this period.
But times have changed. Any attempt to finance an election campaign in violation of the political funding law is no longer regarded by the electorate as a tolerable offense.
Reflecting the change in the electorate’s perception, the Saenuri Party decided not to nominate those convicted of raising political funds illegally for the parliamentary elections in April 2012. Also denied nominations were those convicted of sexual crimes, bribery and election rigging.
Ignoring its past pledge of clean politics on Thursday, however, the Saenuri Party nominated Suh, a former lawmaker and party leader, who has breached the political funding law twice, to run in a by-election in a Gyeonggi Province constituency on Oct. 30. Nothing better explains his nomination than his connections to President Park Geun-hye, who may wish to tighten her grip on the party though his election to the National Assembly.
A party is free to nominate anyone it prefers. But election is in the purview of voters. In making a final decision on Suh at the polls, they will undoubtedly take into account the fact that he was convicted of taking 1.2 billion won from a business enterprise in 2006 and 3.2 billion won from two people who sought election to the National Assembly via proportional representation in 2008.
Of course, Suh denies that he took the money from a corporation and political aspirants to line his own pockets. In other words, he is saying he collected money for the party. Even so, he cannot remove the stigma of being an ex-convict as easily as former prisoners of conscience did theirs.