We must watch the watchersWhen United States President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time address on health care reform to a special joint session of the U.S. Congress, a Republican House member shouted “You lie!” To be sure, it makes no sense to heckle a president at the U.S. Congress, which asks members to maintain their dignity. As the public and even the House member’s party colleagues showered him with harsh criticism, he apologized for his “inappropriate and regretful remarks.” It is worth noting that more than 3,000 voters solicited up to $100,000 in donations to support the congressman’s Democratic rival in a single day.
Compared to the violence and verbal abuse in Korea’s National Assembly, calling the president a liar is a drop in the ocean. Abusive language is nothing to us, and incidents involving hammers, power saws and organized violences are an everyday occurrence here. But an intentional act of self-injury causing substantial damage to the dignity and authority of the Assembly is a matter of grave concern.
A few days ago, Korean Democratic Party lawmakers walked out of the main chamber of the National Assembly holding banners demanding that National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o step down while he delivered a speech to mark the opening of this year’s regular session. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Rhyu Si-min administered the oath of office in the Assembly Chamber wearing a beige-colored jacket, T-shirt, and cotton trousers, and received harsh criticism from Grand National Party members. Although the Assembly is not the place for frivolous quarreling, hunger strikes, sit-down protests and haircutting became commonplace there long ago. Some members have no regard for the Assembly, and they wrongly believe that lawmakers have the right to behave this way. For years, the Assembly has been plagued by the idea that members can abandon their dignity on a whim.
There are ways to prevent such violations from occurring again, with measures to impose some legal restrictions on them under deliberation at the Assembly. However, we face many difficulties in implementing such regulations due to the complicated conflicts between the opposition and the ruling party. As shown in the U.S., it can be effective for voters to raise their awareness and act to support their principles. For example, each voter can stage a group protest or vote against a lawmaker who has made slanderous remarks.
Although there may be more legal hurdles and adverse side effects than the massive movements to defeat lawmakers led by civic groups in the past, a large number of individual campaigns to protect the Assembly could serve as a more powerful watchdog than anything else.