Get back to basics

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Get back to basics

The extraordinary session of the National Assembly that opens today is significant for many reasons. In the days ahead, the Lee Myung-bak administration will have to demonstrate the direction of its policies for its second year. The legislature must purge itself of last December’s disgraceful display of mayhem and violence within its chambers. The session will test whether the government and the Assembly can embrace and digest the issues brought to the fore by street protests, and provide ways of stopping the downward spiral in the country’s economic growth.

Contentious issues will be discussed in this month’s Assembly session. The government’s set of reform proposals for the economy, society and media that set off last year’s brawls and street protests are still pending. Five new cabinet members named by the president need to be confirmed by lawmakers. A decision over what is to happen to the new police chief needs to be made, after six died in a violent clash between protesters and police at a redevelopment site in Yongsan, central Seoul.

So far, the outlook on the upcoming session doesn’t look too promising. The ruling Grand National Party appears determined to pass the critical 15 bills during this session. The main opposition Democratic Party has already positioned itself in offensive mode, ready to use the Yongsan disaster to attack the government. The two sides are like train engines heading toward each other. From the current standpoint, a disastrous collision looks unavoidable.

A solution to any conflict lies in the basics. The ruling and opposition sides must talk over the contentious bills at committee meetings. The ruling party must guarantee sufficient discussion and the opposition side needs to promise to respect the outcome of such talks. The opinions of voters should also be heard. This is how democracy works.

The hearing to confirm the cabinet designates should be done separately from the legislation process for the bills. The DP demands that newly appointed police chief Kim Seok-ki step down to take responsibility for the Yongsan tragedy. It also wants a special investigation into a possible misuse of power in Kim’s order for a police raid, claiming the prosecutors’ earlier findings unfair. The Yongsan disaster should be left to prosecutors and police, while the legislature should concentrate on reviewing deregulation bills and cabinet candidates. If the DP wants a say in the matter, it can make use of government hearings or speeches by party representatives.

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