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‘Blacklisted’ SKorea Pols Defeated

April 13, 2000

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Koreans consider their political leaders so corrupt that they often joke: If a politician drowns in a river, all the fish will go belly up.

Even so, activists who urged voters to shun 86 candidates viewed as corrupt in Thursday’s parliamentary elections came up with quite a catch _ they saw 58 of the ``blacklisted″ candidates defeated.

The activists, who gathered in their office overnight to keep tallies on the targeted candidates, tacked up a red card when a defeat was assured, then let out a cheer.

``From now on, politicians will at least know that people are watching them,″ said Choi Yeol, a co-leader of Citizens’ Alliance for 2000 General Elections, a coalition of 467 civic groups.

The effort _ activists’ first real success at stopping corrupt politicians here _ came as President Kim Dae-jung sought victory for his ruling Millennium Democratic Party. Instead, the opposition Grand National Party retained a plurality in parliament.

During the campaign, activists carried brooms and wielded yellow and red cards, urging people not to vote for candidates tainted by criminal records, corruption, tax evasions and military draft dodging.

``To me, all politicians are the same,″ said Park Sool-yi, a 70-year-old retiree. ``They are all politeness right now, but once they get in Parliament, they all become stiff-necked and enter your house without even taking off their shoes.″

Vote returns showed that some of the problems that have bedeviled South Korea for decades _ above all, regionalism _ die hard. The two major rival parties, the ruling Millennium Democratic Party and the opposition Grand National Party, virtually swept all seats in their home provinces.

Even as legislative candidates across the political spectrum climbed on the reformist bandwagon, the independent National Election Commission said the number of cases of alleged campaign violations doubled from the last election four years ago.

The campaign spending limit averages less than $150,000 per district, but media reports say some candidates spent millions of dollars. In the past, candidates did not face serious penalties for violating campaign-finance laws once elected.

To boost their reformist credentials, parties fielded former student activists who battled riot police in protests against past dictators. Rival parties, under public pressure, were also forced to adopt a new law requiring authorities to make public tax, military service and criminal records of all candidates.

A check of the criminal records found that 17 percent of the 1,153 candidates have criminal records that forced them to serve prison terms. Nearly 40 percent of candidates have paid either no income or no property taxes in the past three years, and about one-quarter of them did not finish the country’s mandatory military service.

Money greased political wheels for decades in South Korea, where industry and politicians have been linked like Siamese twins. Former President Chun Doo-hwan was found to have amassed $900 million during his nine years in office, most of it from the conglomerates that dominate the nation’s business.

His successor, Roh Tae-woo, accumulated only slightly less during his 1988-1992 term.

Roh’s successor, Kim Young-sam, came to office with a vow to root out irregularities. He jailed both Chun and Roh for corruption and a military coup that brought them to power.

But by the time he left his office in 1998, his popularity had hit rock bottom _ partly because of a graft scandal involving his son.

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