Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), stepped down from his South Gyeongsang Province governor post on late Sunday, the deadline for public officials to resign to run in the presidential election.
But the timing of his resignation is controversial, because he deliberately delayed it until the deadline to prevent the province from having a by-election to fill his vacancy, possibly because the chance of a liberal candidate’s victory in the by-election is high.
Even before he became the LKP nominee, he openly said, “If I become the candidate, I’ll quit the governorship. But there will be no by-election. I will prevent it from happening.”
According to the law, public officials who want to run in the presidential election must leave their posts 30 days before the election _ April 9 this time. And if the by-election to fill their posts is to be held, their resignation should be reported to the regional election offices by that day, too. Then the by-election will be held on the same day as the presidential election.
But the prosecutor-turned-politician took advantage of a legal loophole _ he resigned nearly at midnight of April 9, Sunday, making the regional election office unable to receive the report of his resignation on that day.
Without a by-election, the province will have no governor for 14 months until the next local election in June 2018.
Regarding why he wants to block the by-election, Hong said the poll would cost the provincial government, which has just finished paying debts, 20 billion won to 30 billion won. He also said it would cause a series of resignations by provincial councilors, lawmakers and mayors within the province who wish to run in the by-election.
But political critics commonly view that the conservative Hong has concerns that a liberal candidate may win the by-election and the huge financial burden to the region for by-election expenses may damage his own presidential popularity with the residents.
Other political parties and regional civic groups denounced Hong’s move, saying it will cause 14 months of an administrative vacuum in the province and infringe on the residents’ political rights.
“The person who majored in law is playing with the law,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min, presidential candidate of the minor conservative Bareun Party. “He is depriving 3.4 million South Gyeongsang Province residents of their political rights and suffrage, while he is enjoying his own right to run in the presidential election.”
A liberal civic group in the region also filed a complaint with the prosecution for dereliction of duty and abuse of power. “It is unacceptable in a democratic country to block the by-election by misusing the law. Hong is deliberately abusing his authority to violate the political rights of the residents,” the group said in the complaint.