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Speaker declines to push extension bill

Mar 01,2017
National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun Tuesday rejected demands by opposition parties that he put a bill extending an independent counsel probe into the Choi-gate scandal to a vote, citing legal limitations on his authority.

“The speaker said in order for him to introduce the bill to the floor, the country must be facing a situation grave enough that it is akin to a wartime situation,” Rep. Lee Yong-ho of the People’s Party told reporters following a closed-door meeting with the speaker, “or when the National Assembly is incapable of putting it through a parliamentary committee [due to a national emergency].”

Under the National Assembly Act, the Assembly speaker can directly introduce a contested bill only when the country is in a dire emergency such as a natural disaster or at war.

The speaker can also call a vote when heads of parties with negotiation authority agree.

A party acquires negotiation authority when it has 20 or more lawmakers in the assembly.

Chung, a former Democratic Party member, said he would wait for the parliamentary legislation committee to pass the bill and send it to a regular session to be voted on.

Chung’s rejection of a demand by four opposition parties came a day after Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, refused a request by independent counsel Park Young-soo to expand his probe by an extra 30 days.

During a cabinet meeting Tuesday, the acting president said he had decided not to prolong the probe because of deep internal divisions among those for and against the president and North Korea’s threat to national security and economic uncertainties. He did not elaborate on how a prolonged probe related to economics or Pyongyang’s threats.

With Hwang’s rejection, the independent counsel wrapped up its 90-day probe Tuesday.

Hwang’s decision was welcomed by the ruling Liberty Korea Party, while opposition parties threatened to impeach Hwang for abuse of power.

It was anticipated he would say no to the probe being extended since he was an appointee of Park and has recently emerged as a potential presidential candidate to represent die-hard Park supporters from the LKP.

In response to Hwang’s rejection, all four opposition parties - the DP, People’s, Bareun and Justice parties - were unified Tuesday in a rare bipartisan gesture demanding Chung put a bill opposed by the ruling LKP to a vote on Thursday, the last day of the Assembly’s February regular session.

Should the probe expansion bill be put to a vote, it is expected to be passed without challenge since the four opposition parties command the loyalties of 198 lawmakers.

The bill’s passage requires a majority of the 299 lawmakers.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]