Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blacklisted Korean Politicians Sit Up and Take Note ; Civic Groups Release Lists of More Than 200 'Unfit' Leaders, Ahead of April 13 Vote

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blacklisted Korean Politicians Sit Up and Take Note ; Civic Groups Release Lists of More Than 200 'Unfit' Leaders, Ahead of April 13 Vote

Article excerpt

Forget term limits or campaign finance reform. Ahead of the April 13 parliamentary elections, Koreans fed up with their politicians are "blacklisting" representatives whom they consider unfit for public office.

Their sins?

More than 200 politicians have accepted bribes, fist-fought in the assembly building, or fanned divisive regional sentiment, among other things, according to watchdog coalitions of more than 450 civic groups.

"I'm just totally fed up with it!" steams Park Jae Hyun, a student at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Politicians are understandably miffed too, crying that such lists are "illegal" here. Korean election law prohibits most third parties from endorsing or criticizing candidates.

But the civic groups have struck a chord with the public and are being praised for confronting the failings of Korea's young democracy.

To understand how poorly Koreans regard their politicians, consider that 128 of the 299 standing lawmakers in the National Assembly made the first of two lists released of the "unfit." More lists are being prepared. In general, Korean politics are dominated by kingmakers who pick candidates and set policies in backroom dealings, critics say. But the closed process has come under increasing scrutiny. Corruption scandals are now common fare in the media, following the 1996 convictions of former presidents Roh Tae Woo and Chun Doo Hwan on charges of treason, mutiny, and corruption.

When the first civic group announced its list on Jan. 10, politicians reacted furiously. Aides besieged the offices of The Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), a respected NGO. They carried stacks of documents while "shouting and begging" for their bosses to be taken off the list, says Marion Kim, a campaigner there.

The NGO campaigns "are politically motivated, and biased...." They "amount to character assassination," says Park Shin Il of the opposition Grand National Party. Like many in the opposition, Park suspects many NGOs are actually quasi-political organizations supporting the ruling party.

Some political scientists say Korean society should be cautious about these civic groups, as they could become a potent political force. …

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