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Last fast-track bill reaches a vote

Legislation pushed by ruling party’s coalition gives powers to police
Jan 06,2020
After a stalemate over the New Year’s holiday, rival parties are expected to collide today at the National Assembly over a remaining fast-tracked bill on prosecutorial reform, which would rebalance power between the police and prosecutors.

According to ruling Democratic Party (DP) floor leader Rep. Lee In-young, his party will ask Speaker Moon Hee-sang to open a plenary session on Monday to call for a vote on the bill, which would complete the legislative portion of the government’s prosecutorial reforms.

On Dec. 30, in spite of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP)’s attempts at obstruction, the DP and four minor parliamentary allies successfully passed the first and most controversial of the prosecutorial reform bills, which creates an independent investigative agency focusing on crimes by high-ranking officials.

If that bill was designed to deprive the powerful state prosecution service of its monopoly on issuing indictments, Monday’s bill seeks to chip away at prosecutors’ authority over the police.

Specifically, it would give police greater autonomy to conduct primary investigations while doing away with prosecutors’ right to command such probes when they see fit.

The two agencies naturally hold conflicting opinions on the bill, with the police regarding it as a long overdue reform that could release them from the burden of excessive prosecutorial meddling into their investigations.

Senior police officers have publicly noted that there are almost no countries in the world in which the state prosecution service holds such tight control over police probes, has the exclusive rights to file arrest warrants and possesses the manpower to conduct its own separate investigations independent of the police.

The prosecution, on the other hand, say its authority to command police investigations serves as a check on police abuses of power.

The DP’s and its allies’ attempt to pass the bill today is likely to spur the LKP to another filibuster, which it used to block the new agency bill last week and an electoral reform bill before that. Both bills eventually passed, however, as the DP used a loophole in parliamentary law governing the duration of extraordinary sessions to cut short the filibuster.

Implying the DP and its allies may have no choice but to employ this method yet again, Lee implored the LKP to stop its opposition and enter negotiations.

“I find it very regrettable that the LKP is only active when it comes to calling rallies outside [Parliament] but is passive when it is necessary to discuss and compromise,” he said. “If we cannot complete the reform and peoples’ livelihood legislation without an agreement with the LKP, then we have no other way but to go with the compromise reached within the ‘four-plus-one’ coalition,” referring to the DP and its four minor parliamentary allies.

In addition to the main bill, however, the DP also wants to pass other legislation, including another separately fast-tracked bill on private kindergarten reform. Given the LKP’s resistance to that bill as well, Lee said he was confident that the four-plus-one coalition would maintain its alliance on other bills.

Yet if the LKP resolves to start a filibuster on the main bill, the kindergarten bill and over a hundred of other bills on the agenda are likely to be delayed.

According to Lee, the DP plans to conclude all votes on the prosecutorial reform and kindergarten bills before the Lunar New Year holidays.

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