Candidates’ children targeted in smear campaigns

People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, in the left photo, talks about his campaign pledge on education at a gathering of kindergarten teachers in Songpa-gu, Seoul, Tuesday, while Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea discusses how to develop the southeastern parts of the country during a media briefing at the Changwon Exhibition Convention Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. Both candidates’ aides have intensified smear campaigns against the children of the two rivals. / Yonhap

By Kim Rahn

Presidential candidates here have often been embroiled in influence-peddling or other allegations involving their children, regardless of their political career, family background and ideology. And this election is no exception.

Such smear campaigns involving children usually work, and experts say it is because nepotism and favoritism allegations agitate voters emotionally. Also they are an easier way to offend rivals rather than finding out the flaws in their campaign pledges.

Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is facing allegations that he helped his son land a job unfairly at the state-run Korea Employment Information Service in 2006 when he was a senior presidential secretary.

His opponents claim that the son submitted his resume after the application deadline. Then after just one year of working, the service allowed him to take two years’ leave of absence to study overseas. But after returning to Korea, he quit the job.

Then-opposition parties first questioned this in 2007. However, a labor ministry audit found no evidence of favorable treatment although there was a flaw in the recruitment.

The issue re-emerged in the presidential election in 2012 and again this time. “I’ve repeatedly explained it for 10 years, and the audit has already proven it false,” Moon said.

For Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor liberal People’s Party, opponents claimed Ahn was refusing to disclose the wealth of his daughter because he gave her a large amount of assets illicitly.

All high-ranking public servants and elected officials are required to disclose their assets along with those of their families. In 2013, Ahn said his daughter, who was studying overseas, had 94 million won in assets. But he has refused to disclose them since 2014, saying she is making her own money, working as a research assistant at Stanford University.

But other parties said to be omitted from the wealth disclosure list, she has to be registered as living as a separate household. They also said an assistant’s salary is too small to cover tuition and living expenses, and if Ahn has sent her money, she should be included on the list.

Regarding the allegation, Ahn’s camp said the National Assembly Ethics Committee allowed the omission by acknowledging that his daughter was making her own money and actually living separately. It added that her assets are now about 112 million won, which she has collected by saving pocket money since she was young and her salary, noting Ahn only paid her tuition during her undergraduate years.

In the case of Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, his two sons had some 139 million won each in their bank accounts in 2005 when they were university students who did not make any money. It was alleged that Hong used their names to open accounts to keep illicit funds in. Hong claimed the money was savings from pocket money.

Experts say such a “child factor” emerged following several influence-peddling or corruption scandals involving former presidents’ children, including Kim Young-sam’s son, Hyun-chul, and Kim Dae-jung’s three sons.

“As former presidents’ children committed crimes by abusing their influence, people try to vet candidates’ children to prevent such a thing from recurring,” said Kim Man-heum, head of the Korean Academy of Politics.

Allegations involving children are also more about morality which captures public attention easily, so they are often used when it is difficult to fault a rival’s policy plans. Because they involve family issues, it is also not easy for the candidate’s aides to grasp the entire situation and explain it.

In 1997 and 2002, presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party failed to clearly explain the allegation that his two sons unfairly dodged military duty, and this was a critical cause of his defeat.

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