Tory critics of the South Korean government persist in pressing allegations of widespread fraud in the country’s April election, highlighting what they see as new evidence – in the form of alleged electronic distortions and irregularities in the postal ballot – to suggest that the ruling party won its majority in the National Assembly with China’s expertise and advice.
The ongoing controversy comes as US President Donald Trump and his Justice Department claim interference from China, not Russia, is the biggest threat to voting in the United States. Facebook has already removed a large number of China-related pages targeting both Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. (Meanwhile, a Department of Homeland Security whistleblower said Trump allies interfered in intelligence reports to downplay the threat from Russia.)
Charges of cheating in the assembly elections in South Korea gained momentum with the publication in May of a lengthy study, “Anomalies and Frauds in the Korea 2020 Parliamentary Election,” by a professor from the ‘University of Michigan and electoral fraud detection expert Walter Mebane. “The statistical model,” Mebane said, “offers evidence that fraudulent votes occurred in the election, which may have altered some election results.”
Yoo Gyeong-joon, former head of Korean statistics, disagreed with Mebane’s tests, saying he “was missing [an] understanding of the Korean electoral system. Nonetheless, conservative Korean activists, citing Mebane’s article, claim that up to 3 million of the 20 million votes cast in April were fraudulent. They also criticize mainstream conservative politicians for accepting the results of these elections in which Liberal supporters of President Moon Jae-in won 180 of the 300 assembly seats. The Conservatives ended up with 103 seats, their lowest level in 60 years.
The vote, they say, was tainted with computer tricks devised by the Chinese Communist Party with the connivance of Huawei, China’s top tech company. Activists alleged that Huawei devices were hidden inside the ballot sorting equipment, and Choi Won-mog, a law professor at Ewha Woman University in Seoul, even claims that the Communist Party of China slogan , “Follow the party”, was integrated as a secret code. in the statistical data of election results.
Choi – who has launched conspiracy theories that China has also interfered in elections in Turkey, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Iran and Kyrgyzstan – accuses the ruling party of changing the election servers to cover their tracks. He and attorney Park Joo-hyeon are convinced that China has smuggled its own citizens into the country as election overseers, and they claim that 18,000 fake South Korean passports – believed to be made for Chinese officials to be present as Koreans – would have been discovered on an external hard drive. dumped near Incheon International Airport.
“Normal citizens of Korea have looked at the list of election supervisors and found many ‘Chinese’ names,” Choi said.
Min Kyung-wook, a former member of the assembly who lost his candidacy for re-election in April, added: “This election in Korea is a high-tech digital fraud. IT departments are at the heart of fraud. Now, he asserted, “the authorities are falsifying the evidence.”
Activists, however, face a wall of skepticism from some of their old conservative friends.
Among the skeptics is an outspoken politician, Ha Tae-kyung, who accused Min of “simply dividing the party, hampering innovation” and making the party “a mockery of the people and an international disgrace. “. Activists say mainline Tories just want to come to an agreement with the Liberal government to keep a comfortable trade and political relationship.
Korean officials have ignored the interference allegations, attributing them to disgruntled opposition politicians, calling them conspiracy theories and pointedly ignoring them. They pressured the Korean media not to broadcast the allegations and banned right-wing protesters from holding protests – apparently out of fear of spreading the coronavirus, which Korea has notably managed to keep under control.
Yet even as allegations of electoral interference by South Korean activists have come under fire, foreign analysts are also concerned about discrepancies in voting data.
“This election in Korea is a high-tech digital fraud.“
– Min Kyung-wook, a former Assembly member who lost his candidacy for re-election in April
“The part I found most convincing was the evidence showing the percentage of people who voted in the different districts,” said Bruce Bennett, a longtime Korean expert at the Rand Corporation. “The districts close to the vote and especially more than 100% are almost certainly cases of fraud. With a close election, as is often the case in Korea, you can make a big difference by filling out the ballot boxes, if only modestly. “
“Anyone who organized the fraud should have avoided getting percentages of the vote above 100%,” he said. “The fact that they didn’t show that they weren’t well organized. But the fact that the turnout in many districts was above or close to 100% indicates that fraud was rampant. “
And “if the ballot boxes were stuffed,” Bennett added, “some election officials have been dishonest and probably facilitated other forms of voter fraud.”
US officials in Korea and Washington have been particularly disinterested in the fraud allegations since US Ambassador Harry Harris praised the Liberals for their success in the first wave of victory. In fact, accusations of fraud did not begin to circulate widely until well after the election, when Korean activists began to study the results carefully.
“I was struck by how little attention was paid to the April 2020 election,” said Grant Newsham, former US naval officer and commentator on Asian affairs, moderating a discussion at the National Press Club in Washington on the rigging campaign in Korea and its lessons for Americans.
“You see a popular movement saying that the elections were rigged. The voting patterns were so improbable, and the response from the National Election Commission was timid, unconvincing, ”he said.
Ultimately, Newsham said, “hardcore is trying to turn Korea into a one-party system.”
Conspiracy theories of Chinese influence and interference in the election have gained traction as President Moon loses popularity amid criticism of his attempts to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his policies pro-China.
Charges of electoral fraud coincide with what could be the worst moment for Moon since winning a “snap election” more than three years ago after the Candlelight Revolution toppled his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye , dismissed and imprisoned for embezzlement and influence peddling.
Opposition politicians in Seoul slam Moon for his weak response to the bizarre murder of a South Korean official who was shot and then cremated by North Koreans in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea off the south coast. north west.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed “regret” for the incident, but the North has rejected South Korean requests for an investigation and has warned South Korean navy ships to stop searching for the body of the man, who was wearing a life jacket, adrift. the sea, perhaps after a fall from a South Korean boat.
Moon said he hopes the case will “ignite the spark of dialogue” between North and South – a plaintive plea for resuming North-South talks as conservatives denigrate his reconciliation efforts and challenge recent ones. elections to the Assembly. The man’s brother, in Seoul, said he was not trying to defect north. On the contrary, the brother said, the authorities had wasted precious time before starting the search, failed to send enough research vessels and planes and refused to provide “accurate information.”
The Moon administration has yet to comment on the allegations of South Korean election interference.