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[Editorial] Ex-cons in elections

Voters should weed out unqualified candidates

Political parties and candidates are shifting into high gear for the June 4 local elections, for which official campaigning will start Thursday.

A total of 8,994 candidates have registered to run for 3,962 posts, including governors and mayors of the 17 provinces and metropolitan cities, chief administrators of 226 smaller local governments, nearly 3,700 local council members and 17 education superintendents.

Like in elections elsewhere, we cannot expect only candidates who are capable and have high ethical standards to run. Nevertheless, National Election Commission data about the criminal records and tax irregularities of the candidates is truly disturbing.

The NEC data shows that 3,433 of the candidates have at least one entry on their criminal records, which means 4 out of 10 candidates have broken the law. The data listed those whose convictions resulted in punishment of 1 million won in fines or heavier and many of the offenses include traffic violations and other misdemeanors.

The problem, however, is that there are habitual law-breakers. One candidate has as many as 16 items on his criminal record and two more have 15 criminal convictions each.

Also astonishing is that the ex-cons running in the elections include those who were convicted of such crimes as drunken driving, violence, drug offenses, prostitution, gambling, fraud and embezzlement. It is frightening even to imagine that they could serve as our representatives.

Tax records in the NEC data also show there are many shameless candidates. A total of 106 candidates have taxes in arrears, while 150 more did not pay a single won in taxes during the past five years. It is ridiculous that tax dodgers want to represent the people even without clearing their records as tax delinquents by paying due taxes.

In short, the local elections are crowded with criminals, tax dodgers and other bad guys who are seeking public positions, which will have a significant influence on the nation’s political culture as a whole, as well as local autonomy and residents’ lives.

The generous election laws that make these habitual ex-cons and tax dodgers eligible for elected posts should be strengthened. If not, there are few means to keep them from seeking election to public office. Political parties, in this sense, are to blame for the situation.

The ruling Saenuri party nominated four candidates who have nine entries on their criminal records, while the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is backing two who have eight items on their criminal records.

As such, it is down to voters to weed out unqualified, unethical candidates. Just a quick browse of the information the NEC mailouts to voters about each candidate’s criminal records and tax infractions will reveal many people who we should never vote for.