[Outlook]Stopping lawlessness in legislature

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[Outlook]Stopping lawlessness in legislature

On Jan. 6, the floor leaders of the three major political parties agreed on methods and timelines for handling urgent bills pending at the National Assembly.

This resolved the stalemate between the ruling and opposition parties since the Grand Nationals unilaterally submitted the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement for approval on Dec. 18 last year.

It is good, although belated, that the ruling and opposition parties agreed to deal with the bills. However, the illegal practices and violence that took place at the National Assembly were so serious that Korea’s legislature became an object of ridicule around the world. The incident also enraged and disappointed the Korean public, who are doing their best to overcome the financial crisis.

Such violations take place at the National Assembly once every few years, alternating between the ruling party and the opposition. The National Assembly is the institution that establishes the laws that the people must abide by. Lawmakers must therefore set a good example, but instead they break the law.

The National Assembly consists of lawmakers from various political parties who represent the interests of different groups of people. Therefore, some conflict is inevitable in the course of handling bills at the Assembly.

However, under a parliamentary democracy, confrontation must be mediated in accordance with the law.

Neither violence aimed at preventing illegal acts, nor illegal acts committed in the name of preventing violence can be sanctioned under any circumstance. Now is the time to think seriously about how to end illegal acts and violence at the National Assembly.

First, in order to end the repeated problems and make a new start, the recent incident must be closely evaluated and proper measures must be taken. This process may make both the ruling and opposition parties uncomfortable, but if they fail to go through it, lawmakers should no longer talk to the people about abiding by the law.

In particular, along with lawmakers, it must be forbidden for aides or political party staff to commit illegal acts or violence. These people are not representatives of the public, they are not exempt from liability, and they are not the ones who evaluate bills.

So far, floor leaders have taken the central role in governing the National Assembly, but the steering committee must step forward. Floor leader meetings don’t reflect the opinions of minor political parties, which is not democratic.

It’s also undemocratic, and unreasonable to boot, for the political party that has 170 seats and the party with 20 seats to have the same right to speak. Since floor leaders’ meetings are held behind closed doors and the contents of the meetings are not recorded, the people can’t evaluate or criticize what goes on. Most of all, if 20 or so lawmakers, instead of several floor leaders, have a meeting, the possibility of reaching a compromise may increase.

In this case, it would be useful to refer to the function and structure of the rules committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The right of the National Assembly speaker to submit materials for discussion, such as bills, directly to a plenary session must be exercised prudently. The right is an exceptional institution that can cut short most discussions at the National Assembly.

However, in order to end the problems at the legislature, we must try to make a compromise through dialogue. Sincere exchanges can be made only when both the ruling and opposition parties listen to each other’s opinions and reach a compromise.

Even if one party yields but an agreement still can’t be reached, patience is a must.

When such efforts are made, a majority vote becomes truly legitimate. Democracy can be achieved by listening to and respecting different opinions.

For this, wisdom, courage and patience are required. The people will then judge which lawmakers make the best efforts in forwarding democracy.


The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Hongik University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lim Jong-hoon
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