End deadlock in Assembly

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End deadlock in Assembly

The National Assembly’s legislative and judiciary committee is again causing trouble.

It is the most important standing committee of the legislature. All bills, after being approved by their respective standing committee, need to pass the legislative and judiciary committee to come to a floor vote.

A lawmaker from the major opposition party heads the legislative committee. While most of the bills are sponsored by the ruling Grand National Party, the Democratic Party is currently in charge of the last step before voting. It is no surprise that deadlock emerges. From the opposition’s perspective, the committee is the most effective tool to block a bill. From the perspective of the ruling party, it is an obstacle.

And a troubling situation is being repeated once again. Despite the economic crisis, the legislative committee has continued to hinder the movement of bills. About 90 bills, including the planned consolidation of the Korea Housing Corporation and the Korea Land Corporation, are pending at the committee as of now.

In February, floor leaders of ruling and opposition parties agreed that urgent economic bills including the planned deregulation of the financial industry would be voted on during the April session. But the bills are still adrift.

The bill to consolidate state-run housing and land corporations has been taken hostage by the Democratic Party, because its lawmakers wanted the new headquarters of the firm to be located in their stronghold of Jeonju.

It is a classic display of Korean politics. A bipartisan agreement is ignored, while a bill is caught in a fight over regional interests. This is nothing new. It won’t change, no matter who the ruling party is. When the GNP was the opposition party, the committee was still an obstacle.

Because it is a structural problem, the solution is to revise the system. The cause of the trouble is Article 86 of the National Assembly Act, which requires the legislative committee to examine all bills. The clause was established in 1951 during the Korean War in order to maintain professionalism in creating laws. The legislative committee’s members were legal professionals at the time, and they reviewed the consistency, legitimacy and constitutionality of a bill, often drafted by lawmakers who did not have a legal background.

Indeed, no functioning democracy today has such a standing committee. It is time for Korea to end it. The capabilities of lawmakers and aides available to the legislature have improved. If necessary, a bill’s structure and wording can be examined by the legislative office of the Assembly secretariat.

The special committee on political reform is discussing the problem right now, and lawmakers’ study groups as well as the office of the National Assembly speaker are also preparing drafts to revise the law governing the legislature. It is time for political parties to think beyond each party’s interests and tactics and concentrate on true reform of the Assembly.
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