Political humiliation

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Political humiliation

“Ruling party members locked the windows of room 146 in the National Assembly as some 60 party assistants blockaded the entrance, locking themselves in with a couple of staff members from the legislature. The ruling party unilaterally passed next year’s budget and other pending bills in just 60 seconds. Angry opposition party members forced into the room, unleashing a furor of foul words and fisticuffs.”

No, this isn’t a description of Thursday’s melee, when the Grand National Party attempted to submit a bill to ratify the free trade agreement with the United States at the National Assembly without the consent of opposition parties.

It is from the lead story of the JoongAng Ilbo from Dec. 2, 1985, when ruling party members passed the budget bill under the pretences of a party meeting at the crack of dawn, and later clashed with hammer-wielding opposition party counterparts. Finger-pointing and insults among politicians ensued after the violence, causing the then JoongAng Ilbo political editor to lament, “How could politics have descended so low?”

The following year, the ruling party again resorted to the same ruthless tactics to ratify the budget bill, making newspapers print the same headlines on Dec. 2, 1986. But, as if two consecutive years of witnessing such second-rate politics wasn’t embarrassing enough, we have had to write the same stories and editorials two decades later.

The key difference between then and now, however, is that Korea’s brawling politicians now make headlines in the international press.

Secret raids by the ruling party to fulfill the will of the majority of the people to pass a bill and violent obstructionist moves by the opposition politicians do take place in other countries. Filibustering is a deliberate political move in the United States. Intentional slow-walking to the voting booth to buy time is a tactic favored by Japanese politicians.

But politicians physically blockading opposition parties from ratifying a bill and the use of sledgehammers and fire extinguishers is a rare find in the foreign media’s political coverage. It was no wonder that the scenes of our politicians clashing with fists and power tools made news in other countries.

International humiliation has now been added to the list of disgraceful incidents by Korean politicians through their violence and lack of decorum.

This in a country known, or so we claim, to have accomplished democratization and modernization in record time.

What a wake-up call. What a shame.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yeh Young-june [yyjune@joongang.co.kr]

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