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Floor leaders agree to look at summit pact

President has been pressing Assembly to ratify the document
Sept 11,2018
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Lawmakers in the main opposition Liberty Korea Party hold up signs opposing ratification of the Panmunjom Declaration at the National Assembly on Monday. [YONHAP]
Floor leaders of the three largest parties in the National Assembly agreed on Monday to discuss ratifying an inter-Korean cooperation agreement signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after their third summit concludes next week, putting a pause to political wrangling over the legislative fate of the so-called Panmunjom Declaration.

The agreement to hold discussions about its ratification until after the summit, which is set to run from Sept. 18 to 20 in Pyongyang, was reached at a meeting presided over by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang and involving the floor leaders of the three largest political parties: Hong Yong-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party, Kim Kwan-young of the center-right Bareunmirae Party and Kim Sung-tae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

Hong told reporters after the meeting that the National Assembly would discuss ratifying the declaration, signed by Moon and Kim after their first summit in April, once they see the results of their third meeting together. He added that the three parties agreed not to engage in any political fights in such a “difficult situation.”

The Panmunjom Declaration outlines a variety of cross-border projects and includes North Korea’s will to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The Blue House has been pressing the National Assembly to ratify the declaration since it was signed in April, but the campaign didn’t pick up until Sept. 3 when Moon personally urged the legislature to ratify the document amid an impasse in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Ratifying the declaration would make it legally binding and prevent future administrations from backpedaling on the agreement. Moon said during a meeting with top aides in the Blue House that if the National Assembly supported the declaration in bipartisan spirit, it would provide “great momentum” toward establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula and help talks between North Korea and the United States. The fiercest opponent to ratification has been the Liberty Korea Party, which contends that North Korea should denuclearize first, but the Democratic Party has a high chance of ratifying the declaration without the Liberty Korea Party’s support. To ratify the declaration, a majority of the 299-member National Assembly, or 150 lawmakers, has to participate in voting, and a majority of those lawmakers must approve. The Democratic Party has a high chance passing the bill with the support of its 129 lawmakers and 14 members of the center-left Party for Democracy and Peace who have said they would vote for ratification.

Five lawmakers in the far-left Justice Party and one from the Minjung Party have also pledged support, bringing the tally to 149. In that case, only one more vote is needed from either the Bareunmirae Party, which has 30 lawmakers, or among the Assembly’s seven independent lawmakers.

The real challenge will be getting the bill to the floor. The Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee has to approve the bill first, and for that to happen, a majority of the committee has to participate in the vote. A majority of those lawmakers must then approve.

The committee currently includes 10 members from the Democratic Party, eight from the Liberty Korea Party, two from the Bareunmirae Party, one from the Party for Democracy and Peace and one independent. The Bareunmirae members have voiced opposition to the declaration and so has the independent lawmaker, meaning the committee is evenly split. The leader of the committee, Rep. Kang Seok-ho of the Liberty Korea Party, said on Monday that the committee does not plan to send the bill to the floor. There is a way for the National Assembly to bypass the committee. Parliamentary rules allow the speaker to send a bill to the floor without committee approval during a natural disaster, war, national emergency or when the speaker reaches an agreement with each negotiating party, but this risks polarizing lawmakers and turning opposition parties against the speaker, who is supposed to remain politically neutral.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YOO SUNG-WOON AND HAN YOUNG-IK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]