Park accused of violating election laws by giving gifts
SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) accused President Park Geun-hye Wednesday of violating election laws by distributing watches printed with her own signature as gifts ahead of nationwide local elections in June.
Park's office sent five pairs of watches -- each pair consisting of one men's watch and one ladies' watch -- to ruling party lawmakers and chiefs of party councils as gifts for Lunar New Year's Day, which falls on Jan. 31 this year, according to the party.
The controversy began after the ruling party's secretary general, Hong Moon-jong, reportedly told party council chiefs during a meeting on Tuesday to "put the watches to good use."
Hong also reportedly urged the council chiefs to work hard for the party's victory in the June elections, stressing that anything else would spell trouble for the party.
Rep. Kim Hyun of the DP immediately filed a request with the National Election Commission (NEC) to determine whether the watches could constitute a violation of election laws.
"The DP strongly demands the National Election Commission take strict measures against the election law violation charges over the 'Park Geun-hye watch,'" DP spokesman Park Kwang-on said in a press briefing. "The DP will consider taking legal steps."
The ruling Saenuri Party slammed the opposition party for what it said was another "irresponsible" political offensive.
"The Saenuri Party carefully reviewed the Public Official Election Act before distributing the watches, and received an authoritative interpretation from the NEC," ruling party spokeswoman Min Hyun-joo said in a written press briefing.
According to the NEC, it does not go against the law to use the watches as gifts to people outside of one's constituency, among other cases, Min said.
She also stressed that it is not the first time that such watches have been made, saying that all previous administrations, including those of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun of the opposition camp, had produced and distributed their own memorabilia watches.