Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Koreans Demand Democracy, One Protest at a Time ; Ahead of April 13 Election, Civic Groups Have Forced Changes from the Government

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Koreans Demand Democracy, One Protest at a Time ; Ahead of April 13 Election, Civic Groups Have Forced Changes from the Government

Article excerpt

Yoon Bang, a respected physician, was a candidate in the April 13 parliamentary election for all of six days before he quit in disgust.

Like dozens of others, he was coaxed into running for office by a political party eager to bring fresh faces into the ranks.

But after Dr. Yoon was approached by private election brokers asking for money in return for guaranteed votes, he promptly left the race. "I just want to forget about the whole thing," says Yoon.

Like most Koreans, Yoon is disheartened by the corruption teeming through Korean politics. Weary with the rhetoric and a lack of discussion of the issues from their politicians, a groundswell of civic action has drastically reshaped the political landscape here. Tomorrow's poll will arguably be Korea's most democratic and open yet.

For the first time, the tax, legal, and military-service records of the candidates were released last week, which may help swing votes in many districts, say analysts. Several coalitions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had lobbied the National Election Commission (NEC) to release the records.

One-quarter of the 952 candidates did not complete mandatory military service - five times the national average. One-third paid no property tax last year. A whopping 16 percent have criminal records: Although half of those were imprisoned by previous dictatorships for pro-democracy activities, others were jailed for bribery, fraud, violence, and adultery. The NEC's Web site was paralyzed by 240,000 hits the day it released the records.

In January, NGO coalitions began to release blacklists of candidates they considered to be "unfit" for public office. The offending politicians had done everything from taking bribes to fist fighting in the National Assembly. Although it was prohibited for special-interest groups to either endorse or oppose candidates, popular support forced the government to quickly amend the law. Special-interest groups are still prohibited from contacting voters directly about a particular candidate. But they say that as they push for more reform in Korean politics, more laws will have to change. …

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