[Viewpoint]Much power, scant leadership

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[Viewpoint]Much power, scant leadership

In the United States, the vice president of the country is designated by the Constitution as the president of the Senate. The highest ranking leader of the legislature is the speaker of the House of Representatives. Since January 2007, Nancy Pelosi has been serving in that post.

Pelosi has risen higher than any other female politician in U.S. history. One inspiring photograph of her comes from the first opening ceremony she conducted at the House. Pelosi broke tradition and allowed her grandchildren and the children of other lawmakers to stand on the podium. “I call the House to order on behalf of all of America’s children,” Pelosi said at the time.

In the U.S. legislature, no lawmakers refuse to attend sessions or use sledgehammers. No human chains are formed in the session hall, and lawmakers’ aides do not occupy committee rooms in protest.

With their children watching from the podium, the American lawmakers took their oath with a reminder not to embarrass themselves. Pelosi reminded the world of the spirit of the U.S. Congress with her remarks.

In comparison to the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Assembly of Korea may have little influence in the world. But inside the legislature, the speaker of the National Assembly has even more power than the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. Congress respects order, compromise and democratic voting as a matter of course. There is no room for change. Like a conveyor belt in a factory, each bill is moved forward to the main voting session from the standing committee. All the speaker has to do is moderate sessions.

Because the speaker does not have the power to introduce a bill or to help a political party unilaterally rush one through, the speaker rarely receives public attention. A while ago, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson reportedly kneeled before Speaker Pelosi to beg her not to “blow up” the Bush administration’s bank bailout package by withdrawing Democratic support, but such incidents are extremely rare.

In contrast, Korea’s National Assembly is in need of order. Depending on how you look at it, the Assembly speaker has too much power. Speaker Kim Hyung-o, a five-term lawmaker, has said starting a discussion to amend the Constitution and reform the legislature are the two major goals for him during his tenure. To this end, he established two advisory committees on constitutional research and improvement of Assembly operations.

The constitutional amendment to revise the country’s presidential system was stalled in the headwind of the economic crisis, but the committee managed to schedule a report to be published early next month.

The committee on National Assembly reform has already published a critical report. “The legislature is combative, unproductive and unethical, and I will change that at any cost,” Kim vowed.

If he manages to achieve both goals, Kim will be remembered as a great National Assembly leader in our history.

Before taking on these two goals, Kim faces a very specific and realistic task: finding a breakthrough in the deadlocked National Assembly.

Although the Constitution and the National Assembly Act, which govern the legislature, were not violated, opposition parties attempted to block bills from being introduced in committees for discussion.

At the end of last year, lawmakers had a justification. Back then, they said the ruling party just tried to ram though a large number of bills all at once.

Two months have passed since the chaotic melees involving sledgehammers, fire extinguishers and fists in the legislature. The opposition parties have had enough time to go over the bills. Yet they are still trying to block the bills from being discussed in the legislature.

Where is our legislature going? What does the speaker have to do in this situation?

At the end of last year, when opposition lawmakers illegally occupied the main Assembly chamber and Speaker Kim’s office, he visited his hometown and political strongholds. He held a press conference in Busan, his constituency, and also visited his ancestors’ graves.

He failed to act meaningfully. Instead of visiting his hometown, Kim should have chosen the plaza in front of the National Assembly. He should have said the country’s parliamentary system was in danger and appealed to the people.

The fate of the National Assembly is ultimately dependent upon the speaker. Kim must be aware that he is sitting in an important post at a critical juncture.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Jin

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