Brawling and cursing, lawmakers pass 6 bills
Foreign investors a target of one final-day approval
▶ Uri Party lawmakers, on the right, sat guard outside the main hall of the National Assembly from the wee hours of yesterday. Grand National lawmakers, who came to the building later, sat confrontationally tete-a-tete. By Oh Jong-taek
Cursing and scuffling lawmakers found the time yesterday to give final approval to six pieces of legislation on the closing day of the National Assembly’s special session.
The Uri Party used some legislative and physical prowess to ram through the legislation with the help of the small Democratic Labor Party, to the dismay of the conservative Grand National Party, which had held the Assembly speaker captive in his own home to try to prevent the bills ― especially three measures designed to attack speculation in real estate ― from coming to a vote.
The latest round of stylized violence at the Assembly was triggered by Uri’s refusal to consider changes to a controversial bill it rammed through the Assembly in December curbing private school owners’ rights to run their institutions without outside participation. Last weekend, the governing party defied President Roh Moo-hyun’s appeal to the party to compromise by amending some of the most controversial parts of that bill. A series of maneuvers set the stage for yesterday’s skirmishing as the two parties got physical on offense and defense.
The Assembly’s speaker, Kim One-ki, was trapped in his home by opposition lawmakers hoping to prevent him from convening the Assembly session’s final day. He delegated his role to his deputy; skirmish lines of opposing legislators formed first outside the Assembly hall and then near the speaker’s podium, but in the end, Uri carried the day and the six measures were approved in assembly-line fashion in about 30 minutes. No injuries, except perhaps to egos, were reported.
“I just can’t take this,” said the Grand Nationals’ floor leader, Lee Jae-oh, looking close to tears. “You are psychopaths,” some party members shouted at their Uri tormenters. Glasses were shattered, curses flew and wrestling matches broke out.
But the Assembly circus did give the Democratic Labor contingent there a boost in status. Representing the left fringe of Korea’s politics, the party was called in by Uri for support in passing the real estate bills, but Uri wisely did not try to pass other legislation that the left opposed. Even that ad-hoc alliance looked for a time to be insufficient to get the six bills through.
Even with the far-left party, the numbers didn’t add up until the Democratic Party, with seven of its 11 members present, fell in line with Uri as well. The head of the Grand National Party, Park Geun-hye, sat in a corner of the hall after the voting and moaned, “I didn’t expect that.”
In addition to the three real estate measures, the Assembly approved a measure taxing the income of foreign businesses operating here in an effort to control what many Koreans consider abuses of the country’s double-taxation agreements. The measure levies taxes on capital gains by foreign companies if they have more than a 25-percent interest in a sale that results in capital gains.
Other bills set up a foundation to promote Korea’s side of a territorial dispute with Japan and gave voters the right to recall provincial governors.
by Chun Su-jin