Ruling Party and Opposition Must Begin to Talk

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Ruling Party and Opposition Must Begin to Talk

The National Assembly has been closed for almost a month, even though the entire nation is abuzz with a flood of critical issues; North-South interactions, the medical strikes, the Hyundai Group's problems, financial restructuring, and street demonstrations. It is frustrating when the ruling and the opposition parties seem to have no intention of convening a parliamentary session.

The National Assembly does not serve simply to rubber-stamp bills proposed by the government. Its duties include criticizing government policy and suggesting solutions to pressing national issues. As it has given this up, the National Assembly is committing a grave offense, the dereliction of its duty. Furthermore, resigning itself to the role of a mere bystander in this era of inter-Korean reconciliation means it is discarding its historic role.

Since the railroading of a bill last month, the two sides have been heaping blame upon each other for the current situation. While the ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) claims that the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) is interfering with the normalization of the legislature, the GNP insists that the MDP should apologize first for the railroading. The MDP convened an extraordinary session on July 31, but was forced to close it because it failed to meet the quorum when three MDP lawmakers went abroad in an act of protest. Since then, the MDP has busied itself with the preparation of its own convention. On the other hand, the GNP refuses to yield an inch. As the opposition, the GNP must have a lot to say about the government's inter-Korean policies and reforms, but we cannot help wondering what the GNP is after at the moment.

In light of the sensitivity of the times, the political parties should not be preoccupied with a war of petty bickering. The ruling party and the opposition should immediately open the National Assembly, restore dialogue, and embark on the deliberation of pressing national issues. It is the job of the National Assembly to examine the government's North Korea policies, adjust its speed, and set its direction. In particular, with the acceleration of inter-Korean exchanges, public concern about inter-Korean economic development is increasing. A case in point is the restoration of the Seoul-Shinuiju railway. Seoul says it will start removing landmines but has not confirmed that Pyongyang will make reciprocal moves. The public cannot help but wonder whether this will translate into a military vulnerability, whether it will strain relations with the United States, and exactly what agreements have been reached between the North and South. The National Assembly should go over these questions one by one, and if problems are found, it must demand that the government make changes. The role of the National Assembly is to keep the development of North-South relations in line with public consensus.

Aside from inter-Korean issues, a pile of economic reform bills awaits the opening of the National Assembly. The revised supplementary budget bill of 2.4 trillion won ($2.2 billion), the bill for revised government organization, and the financial holding company bill cannot be delayed any further. Since the regular session convenes on September 1, an extraordinary session might not have great meaning at this point. However, judging from the emotional confrontation between the two camps, it is obvious that the regular session will not set sail smoothly. Restoring the dialogue between is now a task of great urgency.

by Chung Myong-jin

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