Civility and the assembly

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Civility and the assembly

Rep. Kang Ki-kap of the liberal Democratic Labor Party was found guilty in an appeals court for obstructing public duties and assaulting National Assembly staff. The Seoul Southern District Court overturned a lower court’s not guilty ruling and imposed a fine on Kang, who stormed into the National Assembly secretary general’s office, smashing furniture in protest of the ruling party’s attempt to railroad media reform legislation through the assembly. Kang, clad in a traditional hanbok costume, became famous for a martial-arts-style leap onto a table. We hope the ruling will send a strong message to all legislators that violence and indecency in the National Assembly cannot be tolerated.

The state of order in the legislative chambers is shameful. It has become a frequent cause of mockery from abroad, and at home it clearly deepens public disgust with politics. The National Assembly law is of no use. The fundamentals of a democratic system such as dialogue and compromise as well, as the rule of majority, are frequently disregarded. If a party doesn’t agree with something, it bypasses legal procedures and resorts to physical force.

In late 2009, opposition legislators hammered down the doors of the foreign affairs and unification committee chambers in protest at the Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement bill. The scene made international news and Korean legislators were portrayed as savages. The diplomacy journal Foreign Policy named the Korean National Assembly “the world’s most unruly parliament” for its habit of settling differences with fists and heavy objects. Such an exhibition can be found in no other advanced democratic societies. Legislators elsewhere follow strict disciplinary guidelines and they are kicked out for indecent behavior, even stripped of their titles. But none of our legislators take responsibility for bringing shame to their country and people.

Parties come up with stopgap measures whenever hit by criticism, but later on go on with their business with a straight face. The National Assembly has never voluntarily punished any of its members. Kang’s case was handed over to the judiciary although the assembly has its own independent disciplinary authority. Even when they’re condemned by courts, legislators rarely accept the decision and instead stir up more trouble by claiming it’s a political judgement. Kang who had previously apologized, now claims his action was a “justifiable response by a minority.”

The National Assembly must come up with stringent rules on remarks, attendance, and manners. We sincerely hope the National Assembly learned from the court experience and try to reinvent itself as a productive legislative based on dialogue and compromise.
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