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Democrats stage walkout on first day of Assembly

DP lawmakers demand resignation of Speaker over media bill furor  PLAY AUDIO

Sept 02,2009
Democratic Party lawmakers walk out of the main chamber of the National Assembly yesterday while Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o delivers a speech to mark the opening of this year’s regular session. By Kim Hyung-soo
Ending their boycott, the Democrats returned to the legislature yesterday but walked out of the chamber minutes later demanding National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o step down.

The opening ceremony of the regular session of the National Assembly began at 2 p.m. with both ruling and opposition lawmakers gathering in the main chamber.

After saluting the national flag, singing the national anthem and paying a silent tribute to deceased patriots and the late former President Kim Dae-jung, Speaker Kim delivered his opening address.

Just as he started, Democratic Representative Jang Se-hwan shouted out, “Kim Hyong-o must step down!” Other Democrats joined in, demanding Kim resign for introducing the controversial media industry reform bills in July during the last Assembly session.

Some Democrats held banners during yesterday’s walkout saying, “Evil media laws must be voided.”

The Democrats then left the chamber en masse. Speaker Kim went ahead and read his speech.

Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun had said at a media conference last week that the Democrats would return to the Assembly to resolve the country’s stalled legislative operations. Opposition party lawmakers had snubbed legislative sessions since the ruling Grand National Party unilaterally passed the media bills on July 22.

In his opening remarks, Kim said, as National Assembly speaker, he felt embarrassed by how the legislature had handled the media bills. “If the Constitutional Court rules that the voting of the media bills was invalid, I will assume the political responsibility,” Kim said.

However, he urged lawmakers to stop fighting until the highest court made a ruling and suggested he is willing to give up the Assembly’s speaker’s right to introduce a bill directly to a vote because lawmakers have politicized the executive privilege.

Kim also asked lawmakers to work together to amend the country’s Constitution and transform the governance system.

“Through a constitutional amendment, we can open up a new era and present a vision for the future that will fundamentally reshape the framework of our nation,” Kim said. “The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties should create a special committee on the constitutional amendment as soon as possible.”

After a year’s investigation, an advisory council to the Assembly speaker proposed earlier this week that Korea’s single five-year presidency should be changed into a hybrid “presidential-parliamentary” government in which the prime minister oversees domestic, foreign and defense affairs and the president assumes mostly ceremonial power.

A change to a U.S.-style two-term, four-year presidency was also proposed as a second alternative.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, which lasted just 20 minutes, the ruling and opposition parties’ floor leaders and deputy floor leaders failed to settle a legislative timetable for the 100-day session.

During the session, the ruling and opposition parties have to deal with next year’s budgets, close this year’s accounts and look at other pending issues. A series of audits for government offices is also scheduled once the session opens.

Confirmation hearings will also take place. President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled to make major changes to the cabinet this week.

The upcoming confirmation hearings will be an important opportunity for both ruling and opposition parties to score points ahead of the Oct. 28 by-elections.

While the Grand Nationals want to focus on political reform, including the constitutional amendment and the revision of the election system during this session, the Democrats have said the priority should be the economy.

The GNP and the DP have different opinions about next year’s government budget, which includes allocating funds to the four river restoration projects. The Grand Nationals will push forward the program, expected to cost 20 trillion won ($15.5 billion), while the Democrats need more convincing.

Ahn Sang-soo, the GNP floor leader, said, “The Assembly has to deliberate on the political reform agenda,” while DP floor leader Lee Kang-rae said, “The DP will put an emphasis on livelihood and welfare issues.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]







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