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[Newsmaker] Validity of 2012 presidential election called into question

The validity of South Korea’s 2012 presidential election, in which now-jailed former President Park Geun-hye beat the current President Moon Jae-in by a narrow margin, is now in doubt, after then spy agency chief was found guilty of conducting a secret operation to help Park win the race. 

Former President Park Geun-hye, who is now in jail over corruption charges, is taken to the Seoul Central District Court on May 30, 2017. (Yonhap)
Former President Park Geun-hye, who is now in jail over corruption charges, is taken to the Seoul Central District Court on May 30, 2017. (Yonhap)

Won Sei-hoon, who led the National Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2013 under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, was convicted Wednesday of election and NIS law violations. He received a jail term of four years for his role in directing a secret team of psychological warfare agents to hire internet-savvy civilians to post more than 100,000 comments on Twitter and other online forums in favor of Park from then ruling block in the run-up to the election.

In the race, Park received 51.6 percent of the vote to become the country’s first female president, against Moon’s 48 percent.

Legal experts said the ruling, if finalized at the Supreme Court, means the 2012 election was rigged. Won’s lawyer on Wednesday said he would appeal.

“Won violated the election law that bars public servants from campaigning for presidential candidates and interfered in domestic politics by misusing his power as the chief of the state spy agency,” said Nam Kyoung-kook, a constitutional scholar and law professor at the University of Seoul Law School.

“That seriously challenges the validity of the presidential election,” Nam told The Korea Herald.

Another constitutional law professor at Yonsei University, Lee Jong-soo, said the verdict was likely to drive more activists to file petitions asking for the result of the 2012 presidential election to be reversed.

“People are likely to call on the court to review the validity of the presidential election result as the ruling concluded the state agency meddled in domestic politics,” Lee said.

“But the chance of the reversal is not realistic as Park has already been stripped of power and the new president has since been elected,” Lee added.

In fact, the Supreme Court in April turned down a petition filed by activists against the country’s central election committee in 2013 that sought to have the election outcome annulled.

The court said there would be no real benefit in the nullification of the election as Park has already been removed from office.

Nevertheless, calls are growing for an investigation to determine whether former President Lee or Park had any part in the election manipulation. Both Lee and Park have not been questioned with relation to the scandal.

Park was expelled from power for corruption. She is standing trial on charges of corruption, coercion and allowing her confidante Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state affairs. Moon won the election to replace Park in May.

By Bak Se-hwan (