Specter of fraud appears in S. Korea vote - again

At five in the evening, the Cheju station of the government-linked MBC television network aired the results of a local race for the National Assembly. The station told viewers that the ruling-party candidate had won with 39.2 percent of the vote. The votes and percentages of his opponents were also announced. There was only one problem with the broadcast. The election was still one day away.

The network says the broadcast was an accidental airing of a test of its computer program to tabulate the election results for broadcast. But the opposition parties are convinced the suspicious flub reveals government plans to use computer manipulation to rig the reporting of the vote. Similar charges were made following the December presidential vote.

More tangible evidence of election irregularities turned up in Andong, in the province of North Kyongsang. Acting on a tip, an opposition candidate uncovered 4,296 envelopes left for mailing at a local post office, each stuffed with 20,000 won (about $27) and a flyer for the ruling party candidate. Prosecutors are now investigating and the ruling party revoked the candidate's party membership. But numerous other incidents of attempted bribery, all involving the ruling party, have been reported.

The long campaign has been marred by incidents of violence, vicious slandering of candidates by their rivals and widespread use of ``gifts'' and other forms of attempted vote-buying. These practices, however, are not considered unusual in Korean elections. Nor are they confined to the ruling party. But because of greater wealth and power, the ruling party has a considerable advantage in such activities.

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