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Opposition boycotts Assembly over Moon’s NEC choice

Jan 26,2019


A scheduled special session of the National Assembly in February looks increasingly tenuous after the opposition started a boycott of the legislature Thursday to protest President Moon Jae-in’s recent appointment of a National Election Commission (NEC) member.

Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said her party would refuse to participate in all legislative activities — including the February special session — as a result of Cho Hae-ju’s appointment as an NEC commissioner and vice chairman.

The opposition accuses Cho, a Kookmin University politic science professor, of being a politically biased figure unworthy of a seat on the NEC since his name was listed as a special adviser for election monitoring in a white paper issued by the Democratic Party (DP) for Moon’s 2017 presidential campaign.

Such a person would be unable to maintain political neutrality on the NEC, which oversees all elections in the country, argues the LKP and its junior conservative partner, the Bareunmirae Party (BP).

“In the 70-year history of the NEC, there has never been a figure appointed to the body that has been partial to a single administration,” Na said at the National Assembly on Thursday. “The Moon administration is trying to push through an unprecedented act.”

Na’s assertion that there have never been appointments of supposedly biased figures, however, is far from the truth.

In 2014, then-President Park Geun-hye appointed law professor Choi Yoon-hee as an NEC commissioner. Choi had served as a member of the Grand National Party, one of the forerunners to the LKP, and was criticized by the opposition at the time for being biased in favor of the Park administration. The same can be said of Kim Yong-ho, a former board member of the LKP’s party research institute, who, along with Choi, are currently serving commissioners on the NEC.

The NEC has nine seats, with the president, National Assembly and Supreme Court Chief Justice each holding the right to fill three seats. Cho’s appointment fills a seat left empty after the end of former Vice Chairman Mun Sang-bu’s term last month.

In a text message to reporters on Thursday, Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said that the appointment “abides by the procedures outlined in the Constitution and the law and is meant to minimize the [effects of an] empty seat on the NEC, a constitutional institution.”

The spokesman added that Moon waited until the last minute to make the appointment in the hopes the National Assembly would come to some sort of arrangement, and that the president lamented the lack of such compromise.

Moon tapped Cho for the seat on Dec. 12 after receiving a confirmation letter from the DP that Cho had never actually worked as a special adviser despite his name being listed in the white paper from the elections. The DP said the listing of his name had been a clerical error at the time, which Cho himself confirmed.

These explanations did little to allay the misgivings of the opposition, which boycotted parliamentary appointment hearings for Cho until the deadline of Jan. 19. Moon once again asked the legislature for a hearing past the deadline on Monday, but the LKP and BP adamantly refused to give Cho an opportunity to explain himself publicly.

Fortuitous for the opposition was the fact that a pair of scandals have erupted around two sitting lawmakers from the DP, leaving the ruling party vulnerable to its assaults and unable to negotiate for Cho’s appointment — which Moon pushed through on Thursday. While appointment hearings were supposed to be held, confirmation from the Assembly was not required for the appointment.

Earlier this month, DP floor leader Hong Young-pyo called the current situation in the legislature frustrating, saying that the opposition’s actions amount to nothing more than a political assault since they have refused to comply with procedural norms.

The real victims of this political standoff, however, may be the legislation left unaddressed with the forfeiture of a special session next month, which includes bills on private kindergarten reform, judicial reform and electoral reform.

The last time the opposition boycotted parliamentary procedures was over a hiring scandal at public companies in November, the legislature almost missed the deadline to pass this year’s budget.

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


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