By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- The Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that using Twitter and other social networking sites for election campaigns does not violate election laws, a landmark ruling that allows candidates to reach out to voters with online and mobile media before the April general elections.
Under current law, candidates cannot distribute promotional publications and other materials for 180 days prior to voting. The national election watchdog has classified Twitter postings related to elections or candidates as one of the banned materials.
A group of opposition lawmakers and civic activists filed a petition with the court in March last year to challenge the law, arguing the regulation is too vague and infringes upon their freedom of expression.
In an 6-2 decision Thursday, the court ruled the National Election Commission's ban on use of Twitter for campaigning unconstitutional.
"The Internet is a medium that offers easy access to people for free or with very low cost. Therefore, it is considered as a political sphere that can drastically cut campaign costs," the court said in the ruling. "The nature of the medium fits into the election law that seeks fair opportunity, transparency and low-cost campaigns."
The court also said the current election monitoring system and preliminary measures to prevent spreading false information are already in place to prevent possible side effects from online campaigns.
"The period of limiting people's basic rights is too long, considering the fact the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are held one after another," the court said. "A ban on Internet campaigns for such a long period of time will block criticism of a political party and government's policies, which could weaken the ideological base of the representative system."
South Korea elects a new parliament in April and picks a new president in December. It is the first time in two decades that the two votes are held in the same year.
Twitter and other microblogging Internet service have emerged as a hot potato in South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world with a large population of smartphone users.
Given its direct, unfiltered and real-time character, jumping on the Twitter bandwagon is increasingly seen here as an inevitable step among politicians in efforts to better reach out to the electorate.
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