What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The 2020 South Korean legislative election was held on April 15, so this may come a bit late, but the election was lauded as remarkably successful, with a high turnout despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and its satellite, the Citizen Party, won the election by a landslide, taking 180 of the 300 seats between them, while the conservative alliance between the United Future Party (UFP) and its satellite Future Korea Party won only 103 seats. This was the worst defeat the conservatives had suffered in decades. This election was also notable due to the massive early voting turnout, which hit a record high of 26.7 percent.
However, as with previous elections, rumors of election fraud began to spread as soon as the results were released. National Assembly member Min Kyung-wook of the UFP, who lost the election in Yeonsu B District, Incheon, was one of the first to claim that there had been election fraud. In Yeonsu B District, there were three candidates in contention: Min Kyung-wook of the UFP, Chung Il-young of the Democratic Party, and Lee Jung-mi of the Justice Party. Chung won the election, unseating the incumbent assemblyman Min.
Soon after the election, claiming that he should have won since the liberal vote was split between two candidates, Min argued that the votes had been rigged. On May 11, he held a press conference at the National Assembly Building claiming that he had concrete evidence of election fraud, but ended up reiterating the same points he had made in previous press conferences.
“I compared the total number of votes that our UFP candidates in Seoul received and the total number of votes that DP candidates received, and the UFP received 36 percent [of the votes] while the DP received 63 percent. That can happen. But then I looked at Gyeonggi Province, and it was the same 63 [percent for the DP], 36 [percent for the UFP]. And I looked at Incheon, and it was 63, 36. That’s really quite strange, isn’t it? This is proof of a rigged election, everyone!”
— Min Kyung-wook, member of the United Future Party, May 11, 2020.
Regarding this claim, the National Election Commission (NEC) had clarified on April 22 (the suspicions had first been raised by a conservative YouTube channel on April 17) that, of the 253 voting constituencies, only 17 (6.7 percent) showed the ratio of 63:36 between the DP candidate and the UFP candidate. Another caveat regarding the figures that Min presented is that this kind of calculation method does not factor in political parties other than the DP and the UFP.
There were other claims based on circumstantial evidence, such as: DP assembly members not cheering immediately after the exit poll results revealed a DP win; Yang Jeong-cheol, who was in charge of the DP’s election strategy, stepping down after the win instead of asking for money or a government post like “everyone else“; and the blank ballots from “early voting” that Min received from an informant, which he claimed were a sure sign of election fraud as early voting ballots are only printed when voters come to the polls.
These were a few of the suspicions first raised by conservative YouTube channels, and consequently a total of 125 lawsuits have been filed demanding a nullification of election results along with 31 requests for the preservation of related evidence, according to the Jeonbuk Ilbo.
It is perhaps not surprising to hear from DP assembly members that these claims are “utter nonsense”, as Kim Tae-nyeon, the DP floor leader, put it. Interestingly, many UFP members also seemed to distance themselves from Min and his claims, with some hitting back hard.
Min additionally claimed that Beijing had interfered in the election. Ha Tae-keung, a member of the National Assembly representing Haeundae A District in Busan, disputed this claim and said the following in a press conference:
“The reason we [the UFP] suffered a total defeat in the general election is because, while people don’t like the Democratic Party, when they looked our way there were candidates that they hated even more. This was it, right? No matter what errors the Democratic party makes, our approval ratings can’t go up unless we get rid of the extremely unlikable group within our own party… People who turned their backs on the DP turned to us and saw something even worse. And that worse thing was not even the extreme right wing anymore but a group that spreads ridiculous stories.”
— Ha Tae-keung, member of the United Future Party, May 31, 2020.
Accusing Min of raising suspicions with insufficient evidence, Ha went as far as to say that Min should leave the party.
Lee Jun-seok, a UFP Supreme Council member, also criticized Min, describing his claims as a conspiracy theory. He actually challenged Min to join him on MBC’s 100-Minute Debate, a TV show that allows two different sides to hold a debate regarding a social issue in Korea. Min refused.
“Why is it that not a single UFP member or other responsible party executive is supporting Min? Because people with common sense know how ridiculous this is… When you start looking at things suspiciously, you can continue to be suspicious. For instance, all Koreans now know that Tablo did in fact graduate from Stanford University. But in the past TaJinYo … destroyed his career as a TV personality and dragged the whole of society into an unnecessary dispute. The same goes for the allegations of election fraud. People who have run for office know better than anyone else at what point voters began to respond differently and how to put mistakes right. But the people who raise allegations about a fraudulent election want to etch in people’s minds that the Moon Jae-in administration is a corrupt administration. However, that’s not possible using those means.”
— Lee Jun-seok, member of the Supreme Council of the United Future Party, June 13, 2020.
On May 28, the NEC held a press conference and a demonstration of the ballot counting process in a mock election that aimed to debunk each of the vote rigging allegations. The NEC members disassembled the electronic machines used in the election to show that vote rigging is virtually impossible. The country’s election watchdog admitted that there was room for improvement, due to various Covid-19 prevention measures that were instituted for the election, and vowed to fix these issues. Regarding vote rigging, Kim Pan-seok, the head of the Election Department, explained:
“Fundamentally, Korea does not have electronic voting. Everyone goes to the polls, gets handed a physical ballot, and votes. Ballot counting happens using those physical ballots. The physical ballots that were used for the counting are stored at the NEC, and because there are ongoing lawsuits, some are kept by the courts. And as you have seen during the demonstration, we make public in real time the counts of the ballots that are counted in the ballot counting rooms. And all the data are also open to the public via the information disclosure system, and are disclosed through the media as well… You keep on making allegations about corruption without evidence and ask us to explain, but I’d like to ask the journalists here what more we should do for you to believe us.”
— Kim Pan-seok, head of the Election Department at the NEC, May 28, 2020.
Election fraud is a topic frequently revisited by the losing side. A similar theory about vote rigging was suggested by left-wing journalist Kim Eo-jun after Korea’s 18th presidential election in 2012, in which Park Geun-hye won against Moon Jae-in by a little over a million votes. Kim even went on to produce a film about the alleged fraud. In an attempt to avoid circulating fake news or any other unverified information, this WTS piece did not include the claims purported by YouTube channels on either side (these channels tend to be a means for the YouTubers to make money through sponsorship) and focused solely on what some politicians have said on the matter. Some Korean media outlets also fact-checked claims made by these YouTube channels and found them to be false. Also, vote recounts do happen when lawsuits and requests to preserve the relevant evidence are filed. The Moon administration is neither trying to cover up election fraud nor ignore it, and we will soon find out whether Min really lost the election.
We live in a world of excess information and distrust. People are becoming more and more entrenched in their views, with both sides using different sets of facts to make their points. This raises the question of freedom of speech—does spreading false information fall under the category of free speech? Should we regulate it? It has become more important than ever for governments and the media to be transparent and fair so that they can regain the trust of the public.