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July by-elections likely become `mini general elections`
JANUARY 17, 2014 05:51  
The upcoming July 30 by-elections will likely become larger in scale, as a number of incumbent lawmakers have lost their parliamentary seats following guilty court verdicts for their illegal campaigning or are planning to resign ahead of the June 4 gubernatorial and mayoral elections.

○ 3 incumbents lost parliamentary seats

The Supreme Court has upheld lower courts` decisions nullifying the election of three lawmakers Lee Jae-young (Pyeongtaek B district, Gyeonggi Province) of the ruling Saenuri Party, Shin Jang-yong (Suwon B, Gyeonggi Province) of the main opposition Democratic Party and independent Hyun Young-hee. All of them lost their seats in the National Assembly after receiving at least one-year prison sentences with a two-year suspension in addition to fines.

Lee was found guilty of illegal election campaigning, paying compensations to unregistered campaign staffers or volunteer workers and offering cash donations to some voters. Hyun gave money to a party official who lobbied for her nomination as a candidate. Shin gave money to hometown friends to campaign for him.

The top court acquitted Saenuri lawmakers Park Deok-heum (Boeun-Okcheon-Yeongdong, North Chungcheong Province) and Yoon Yeong-seok (Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province). Park was indicted on charges of paying 100 million won (94,029 U.S. dollars) to a person who worked as his chauffer during his campaign after the election was over. Yoon was accused of having offered to pay 300 million won (282,087 dollars) in return for helping him winning the party`s nomination.

As Hyun lost her parliamentary seat for proportional representation after bolting out of the party, Park Yoon-ok, an activist campaigning for promoting childbirths, will inherit the seat. Following the top court`s decision, the number of the Saenuri Party`s parliamentary seats remained unchanged at 155, while that of the Democratic Party decreased by one at 126 seats.

○ Potential transformation of political landscape

At present, the Pyeongtaek B and Suwon B electoral districts in Gyeonggi Province have been put up for the July by-election, as the incumbents have lost their seats. However, five other lawmakers are awaiting the Supreme Court`s conclusion after receiving guilty sentences from appeals courts that would invalidate their election. Among them, Ahn Deok-su (Incheon West-Ganghwa B, Saenuri) and Choi Won-shik (Incheon Gyeyang B, Democratic) are scheduled to receive their final sentences on next Thursday. Saenuri`s Yoon Jin-sik (Chungju, North Chungcheong Province and the United Progressive Party`s Kim Seon-dong (Suncheon-Gokseong, South Jeolla Province) are also in the process of appeals trials. Depending on the results, their electoral districts could also be included in the by-elections. The cut-off date for the July by-elections is June 30.

In addition, some incumbent lawmakers are expected to resign in order to run for gubernatorial or mayoral posts in the June 4 local elections. Therefore, the July by-elections will likely be held in more than 10 electoral districts.

As many districts in and surrounding Seoul and in the Chungcheong region will likely included in the by-elections, the political circles are stepping up activities. If the July by-elections are held nationwide in the scale of a "mini general elections," they will likely be considered a mid-term evaluation of the Park Geun-hye administration.

There is a possibility that the political landscape will be transformed, depending on the election results. If independent lawmaker Ahn Chul-soo`s new party performs well in the by-elections, the political arena could turn into a three-party system. Also, there are incessant rumors that Sohn Hak-kyu, former DP chairman, and ex-Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon will run in the elections, potentially transforming internal power landscape of political parties.

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