Contrition and blame after Assembly fisticuffs

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Contrition and blame after Assembly fisticuffs


Following the violent pandemonium in the National Assembly Wednesday over the passage of next year’s budget and other sensitive bills, both the ruling party and the opposition apologized to the public for the shameful - if predictable - melee. But they continued to blame each other, and announced opposite ways of dealing with the Korean tradition of legislative free-for-alls.

The opposition Democratic Party said yesterday that it will begin a massive campaign against the ruling Grand National Party and the Lee Myung-bak administration, calling them a dictatorship.

The ruling GNP, meanwhile, said it would work for a constitutional amendment to clean up the ways of Korean politics. “Yesterday’s pandemonium at the National Assembly shows how unhealthy Korea’s political soil is,” Lee Jae-oh, a GNP lawmaker and President Lee Myung-bak’s minister without portfolio for political affairs, said yesterday. “We must amend the Constitution for political reform.”

On Wednesday, a chaotic brawl of lawmakers and staffers raged for hours as the legislature attempted to vote on next year’s budget and other controversial bills, including Korean troop deployments to the United Arab Emirates and corporatization of Seoul National University. It is traditional for minority parties to stand up to parliamentary majorities through violent melees, which are a kind of Korean filibuster.

Following their defeat Wednesday, the Democratic Party decided to submit bills to abort or revise the legislation passed by the ruling party on Wednesday and also decided to hold the GNP responsible for injuries to its lawmakers and staff in the brawls.

The Democrats also discussed a plan to hold massive protests outside the legislature to condemn the administration and the ruling party, which it accuses of dictatorial use of its parliamentary majority.

The Grand Nationals started their new mission yesterday, with GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo telling a leadership meeting that it was imperative for the National Assembly to change Korea’s rough-and-tumble form of politics.

“To this end, we must deal with fundamental reform tasks in 2011,” Ahn said.

Ahn said a constitutional amendment to change the current system of a single five-year presidency and other reforms are known needs for the country. “We must begin a serious discussion to tackle the issues,” he said.

Minister Lee Jae-oh, at a lecture hosted by the Hansun Foundation for Freedom and Happiness, a think tank run by a former GNP lawmaker, said Korea’s single-term, five-year presidency was the main problem with the democratic system. Lee said it promoted bitter partisanship, encouraged the opposition to constantly fight the ruling party, and discouraged the president from compromising since he can’t be re-elected. In addition, a five-year term is too short to accomplish major policies, he said.

“We shed so much blood to elect our president directly,” said Lee. “We should uphold the tradition while changing the system into a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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