Were The April Parliamentary Elections In South Korea Rigged And Fraudulent?
By Palash Ghosh @Gooch700
International Business Times
• DPK and its allies gained 180 seats in the 300-member, single-chamber parliament
• In the greater Seoul metropolitan area, DPK won more than 80% of the seats being contested
• The election generated turnout of 66.2%, the highest for a parliamentary poll since 1992
The April parliamentary elections in South Korea were a resounding triumph for the ruling Democratic Party, or DPK, of President Moon Jae-in. However, accusations and suspicions have since emerged that the victory may have been tainted by fraud and vote-rigging.
In that election, the DPK and its allies gained 180 seats in the 300-member, single-chamber parliament, up from 120. In the greater Seoul metropolitan area, the DPK won more than 80% of the seats being contested.
United Future Party, or UFP, the principal conservative opposition party, came in second with 103 seats.
The victory was interpreted as an endorsement of the ruling coalition’s efforts to successfully combat the coronavirus pandemic in South Korea.
The April parliamentary election was historic and unprecedented as it occurred amid the pandemic – officials disinfected 14,000 polling stations and mandated voters to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and keep a safe distance from others. Even 2,800 coronavirus patients and 13,000 others in self-quarantine cast their ballots.
The measures worked as the election generated turnout of 66.2%, the highest for a parliamentary poll since 1992, according to the National Election Commission, or NEC.
DPK’s overwhelming victory marked a dramatic turnaround for Moon – prior to the pandemic, he was widely blamed for the country’s economic slowdown and a string of political scandals.
Now with a solid majority in parliament the DPK – which is generally a center-left party that advocates some form of appeasement with North Korea – can aggressively pursue its policies.
But now some observers suspect that the April election was an exercise in fraud.
Indeed, a number of opposition candidates “won” when their Election Day votes were tallied, but then “lost” the overall contest after early and postal ballot boxes were counted.
East Asia Research reported that the wrongdoing in the election likely involved digital fraud – i.e., the manipulation of vote-counting machines, computer hardware and software, and information network telecom equipment apparently manufactured by controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei.
The fraud also likely involved “Quick Response,” or QR, codes, that were only present in the mail-in votes and in early ballots – not on Election Day itself.
“Committing an analog method of fraud of ballot switching, while possible, requires a lot of manpower, perhaps hundreds of people,” East Asia Research wrote. “For digital fraud, it only takes a few — a planner, a software programmer, and possibly a go-between person. This small number of people involved makes it much easier to hide the fraud.”
East Asia Research proposed that ballot-counting machines need instructions for sorting and counting, but such “instructions can come from the QR codes on the early-vote ballots as they are counted, or it can also be sent from an external source to the vote-counting central server using the internet.”
Either way, East Asia Research posited, it can “produce an outcome that is different than the voters’ intent.”
The NEC selected LG U+ 5G, which uses Huawei equipment, to provide internet and Wifi for the handling of the pre-vote ballots.
“Instead of establishing its own secured network, which it could have had by using the very secure Gwangju/Daejeon Information Data Center,” East Asia Research commented, “NEC chose an unsecured network, and worse, used a network that uses Huawei equipment notorious for control by China.”
East Asia Research speculated that “servers used at the election sites [could] be connected to servers in China — or elsewhere — and the user on that end in China [could] send the instructions to the central server in South Korea, which in turn sends a message to the vote-counting machines.”
East Asia Research noted that DPK and its allies gained a simple majority in the parliament – which means they can now change laws almost at will.
Professor Walter Mebane, Jr., a professor of political science and statistics at the University of Michigan, wrote a report entitled “Anomalies and Frauds in the Korea 2020 Parliamentary Election” that strongly suggested the election was marred by fraud.
Mebane, an expert on electoral fraud, also used the same “eforensics” statistical model to uncover fraud in elections in Bolivia in 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, and in Kenya in 2017.
Mebane’s model “offers evidence that fraudulent votes occurred in the [South Korean] election that may have changed some election outcomes. The statistical model operationalizes the idea that ‘frauds’ occur when one party gains votes by a combination of manufacturing votes from abstentions and stealing votes from opposing parties.”
Mebane further wrote that: “Visually and by the numbers, frauds occur most frequently for pre-vote units (28.7% are fraudulent), next most frequently for district-level [on] election-day (2.43% fraudulent).”
Overall, according to Mebane’s eforensics model, an estimated 9.9% of the votes cast for DPK candidates were fraudulent in the April election.
East Asia Research noted that while some opposition parties have asked for investigations into the election, some senior officials of the victorious DPK has acted strangely since.
“Yang Jung-cheol, the head of the Democratic Party of Korea’s think tank Institute for Democracy, which is responsible for the party’s election strategy, should have been elated at such a sweeping election victory, but was not,” East Asia Research wrote. “Yang, who is also President Moon Jae-in’s confidant, instead said he was terrified at the outcome and quickly resigned.”
When a journalist pointed out to Yang that he played a prominent role in this election, Yang oddly replied: “I’m terrified and afraid because they made such an enormous outcome [landslide victory for his party].”
Yang added: “I’ll return to the backwaters and will stay quietly as if to wait for a sunset.”
Lee Geun-hyung, the strategy and planning committee chair of the DPK, also resigned.
At the core of the fraud questions are the aforementioned QR codes.
Election cybersecurity expert Richard DeMillo, a professor of computing and management at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said QR codes are “costly, unnecessary and risky features of modern voting systems.”
“QR codes are not readable by human beings, so voters have no idea what is actually written on their ballots when they are scanned, decreasing voter confidence in the fairness of the election process,” he said. “QR code scanners are susceptible to many different attacks that either change the ballot so that it is fraudulent or interprets scanned characters as escape codes that cause the tabulating software to load malware.”
Park Young-ah, a physics professor at Myongji University in Seoul, was extremely suspicious of the electoral results, particularly in the way that so many DPK candidates won only after early ballots and mailed in votes were counted.
“It’s as improbable as flipping a coin 1,000 times and getting heads every single time,” she wrote on Facebook. “[And] this happened without a rigged election?”
Rep. Min Kyung-wook of the UFP openly charged the election was fraudulent.
“Once ballot boxes are opened, the machines tabulate ballots and classify them by candidate and then the result sheets are printed out,” he said. “There is a standard form on which QR codes are not included. Yet QR codes were still printed on the tabulation sheets used in the April 15 elections. This is against the law.”
However, some other UFP officials said there was no evidence of fraud.
For its part, the NEC has denied allegations of impropriety.
The NEC cited that QR codes on tabulation papers were used to prevent input errors or possible mistakes and that votes were not manipulated in any way.
DeMillo added that the QR code “could contain timing information. That would allow a corrupt official to print a code that would trigger an action upon being read by a scanner. This is sometimes called an ‘attack at dawn’ signal. Such a signal would enable, for example, an attacker to shut down a polling place, although that would be difficult to carry out.”