Prime Minister Goh Kun, South Korea's acting president during a presidential impeachment trial, vowed yesterday to crack down on illegal campaigning and protests in the run up to this month's parliamentary election.
The campaign period for the April 15 National Assembly election begins today amid court deliberations over last month's impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and following weeks of big street protests over the issue.
"I have no party affiliation and will manage the election fairly and end the unfair and illegal cycle in our history with this vote," Goh said in a statement. Past parliamentary votes have been marred by vote buying.
"The government will take stern action against illegal activities and any violations," said the veteran bureaucrat, who took over as interim president when Roh's powers were suspended after his impeachment on March 12.
Political analysts said a single-issue race would mark a setback in South Korea's vibrant but still young democracy.
"The current situation with the impeachment of President Roh dominating all other issues is not sound," said Hong Kyu-dok, politics professor at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul. "There are many other important agenda items such as non-performing loans or unemployment, but there has not been enough discussion about these problems," he said.
The anger over Roh's impeachment that has drawn thousands of people to peaceful protests looks set to boost voter turnout to 70 percent, 10 percent higher than in 2000, absentee ballot registration data show, said a senior government official.
Goh, nicknamed "Mr Stability," thanked the people for maintaining calm during the impeachment saga. But he vowed to uphold a ban on street protests over Roh's impeachment, effective from April 2, which is also the first day of campaigning.
He threatened "stern measures" if public officials are found supporting a party or candidate in violation of laws prohibiting partisan speech by civil servants. It was those rules which Roh was found to have broken and which sparked his impeachment.
Roh was impeached by the opposition-controlled assembly for remarks he made in support of the pro-government Uri Party.
But popular outrage against the impeachment has seen the Uri Party's support ratings surge, while backing for Roh's foes, the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), has tumbled in public opinion polls.
In the most comprehensive media poll, a JoongAng Ilbo newspaper survey of 74,200 voters gave the populist, center-left Uri Party a solid lead in both electoral districts and in the proportional representation vote.
Voters on April 15 will cast two votes, one for individual candidates in 243 first-past-the-post constituencies and one for the 56 seats decided by a proportional representation vote on party lines.
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