Major projects being pushed by progressive top educator Cho Hi-yeon faces hurdles as he could be forced to step down from his post after a local court found him guilty of running a smear campaign against his rival candidate last year.
The Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday evening fined Cho, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, 5 million won ($4,600) for spreading false rumors against his conservative rival Koh Seung-duk during his campaign.
Under current election laws, being fined more than 1 million won for running a smear campaign leads to an automatic nullification of one’s election.
Cho is appealing to the Supreme Court. If the nation’s highest court upholds Seoul District Court’s decision, he will lose his post and be asked to return some 3 billion won in campaign funds.
Seoul education chief Cho Hi-yeon. (Yonhap)
The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be announced in one year. In the meantime, Cho’s major projects as Seoul education chief, including the controversial plan to reduce the number of elite high schools in Seoul, may be affected by his weakened position and the court’s ruling.
The district court concluded that Cho spread false claims that Koh was a permanent resident of the United States and that he was using his resident status to educate his two children overseas. During the campaign, Koh, a lawyer-turned-politician, publicly explained he did not hold permanent residency in the U.S., and his children were U.S. citizens by birth.
After Koh’s explanation was proven to be valid, Cho continued to accuse Koh with the allegations during his campaign, the court said.
Cho, a former sociology professor and the only liberal candidate, won an unexpected victory in the Seoul education chief election last year, beating two conservative frontrunners, including Koh.
His key pledges included increasing the number of public, ordinary high schools, while reducing the number of private elite schools to promote equality in education. He also pledged to increase the number of public kindergartens to serve children of unprivileged households.
Cho is not the first education chief of Seoul to be found guilty of breaching the nation’s election laws. In 2009, then-Seoul education chief Gong Jeong-taek was removed from his post after the Supreme Court fined him 1.5 million won for receiving bribes to bankroll his election campaign.
In 2012, Kwak No-hyun was stripped of his post as Seoul’s top educator after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on charges of giving bribes to Park Myoung-gee, a rival liberal candidate, in return for his withdrawal from the 2010 election for the job.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com