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Assembly may try to vote on most contentious bills today

Dec 16,2019
National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said he would allow the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to introduce a set of fast-tracked bills on electoral and prosecutorial reform for a vote today if no compromise is reached between rival parties.

According to a number of local media outlets who spoke to a parliamentary source, Moon will not allow the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) to filibuster a motion to hold an extraordinary session, which the LKP on Saturday said it would do to stop the fast-tracked bills from reaching a vote.

The legislature was expected to open a plenary session on Friday afternoon in which the DP and its minor party allies were set to introduce the five contentious bills for voting, but the session never opened due to the LKP’s decision.

In a press conference on Sunday, DP floor leader Rep. Lee In-young slammed the LKP for obstructing legislative proceedings and rebuffing negotiations, adding that his party and its allies would try again to submit the bills onto the National Assembly floor on Monday.

Lee, however, added that the reason why the plenary session did not open Friday was not because of LKP resistance, but rather due to intense disagreements between allied parties over the contours of the electoral reform bill. The electoral bill would change the balance of single-member constituencies and proportional representatives in the 300-member legislature, as well as introduce a new system by which proportional representation (PR) seats are distributed according to a popular vote.

The DP earlier acquiesced to implementing a new calculation method through which parties that fail to win enough constituency seats that correspond to their nationwide support margin could be compensated with PR seats - a method that would favor smaller parties - but has recently attempted to whittle down the number of PR seats that would be in this new system.

This in turn generated intense pushback from junior partners like the left-wing Justice Party, whose chairperson Rep. Sim Sang-jeung on Saturday slammed the ruling party for its “arrogance” and appeared to threaten backing out of supporting other bills.

The DP needs the support of these smaller parties in order to pass prosecutorial reform bills - a critical part of the Moon Jae-in government’s judicial reform plan.

The bills are designed to weaken the powers of the state prosecution service by creating a new investigation agency focusing on corruption by senior government officials and redistributing investigative powers between the police and prosecution.

Lee said the five parties that formed the coalition are closer than ever to reaching a compromise, and that they would try to present final and unified bills on both issues at a plenary session today.

While Speaker Moon’s go-ahead is technically sufficient to open a plenary session, the LKP’s strident opposition puts uncertainty into whether a Monday session can open as planned.

Since the National Assembly is currently in an extraordinary session, parliamentary rules dictate that filibusters on certain bills can only run until the end of that plenary session and that the bills must be voted on at the beginning of the next plenary session.

This means that even if the LKP stages a filibuster on the bills introduced Monday, the DP can always choose to end the plenary session shortly after and then open a new plenary session to vote on the bills without any obstruction.

To resist the allied parties’ move, the LKP continues to stage a prolonged sit-in at the rotunda hall of the National Assembly to physically block a plenary session, and on Saturday led a large rally at Gwanghwamun Square to attack the bills as well as the Moon administration at large.

Claiming a passage of the reform bills would put “the executive, judicial and even legislative branches under [the Moon government’s hands],” LKP chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn said his party would incite a popular revolt to stop what he called the “completion of a leftist dictatorship.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]