Assembly session abruptly canceled, delaying FTA bill

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Assembly session abruptly canceled, delaying FTA bill

The seemingly endless confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties over the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement forced the National Assembly yesterday to abruptly call off a scheduled plenary session, effectively delaying the ratification of the long-pending trade pact.

The ruling Grand National Party and opposition parties had inched ever closer to a physical brawl on Wednesday after Representative Nam Kyung-pil, chair of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, introduced the FTA in committee. Despite the move, however, no voting has taken place because of fierce objections from opposition parties.

The plenary session was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. yesterday, with expectations of a melee high. Opposition lawmakers feared that National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae would use his authority to introduce the FTA directly for a floor vote. The session, however, was canceled abruptly, 10 minutes before the scheduled start, after ruling and opposition parties agreed not to face each other in the main chamber.

Sources at the National Assembly said that Park advised the two sides not to confront each other because of mounting tensions.

Earlier in the morning, Park also told reporters that he would not be introducing the ratification bill in the session. “The bill is at the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, so the committee must deliberate and vote on it,” Park said.

He also refused to say whether the ruling party had asked him to exercise the speaker’s right to directly introduce a bill for a floor vote. “That’s my own authority, and I will make the decision,” Park said. “It’s not time to say whether I will or not.”

Democratic Party and Democratic Labor Party lawmakers, meanwhile, continued to occupy the conference room of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee for a third day. No committee meeting took place yesterday because of their sit-in.

Representative Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the DP, reiterated yesterday that his party would do everything it could to stop the FTA. Five opposition parties including the DP and the DLP as well as civic groups yesterday met and vowed to “fight to the death” to stop the pact. They agreed to hold a large rally tomorrow in front of Seoul City Hall.

The GNP condemned the opposition parties, particularly the DP, for failing to cooperate with the ratification. “The Democrats are abusing the FTA issue as a political tool for the next year’s elections,” Representative Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the GNP, said yesterday. “The Democrats have become the sidekick of the Democratic Labor Party.”

Although the DP is the largest opposition party, it has often joined the DLP, which has only six members in the National Assembly, to maintain the liberal alliance though their views on the free trade agreement differ.

With the prolonged deadlock between the ruling and opposition parties, DP centrists have appeared to become increasingly uncomfortable with the DLP’s anti-FTA campaign.

“[The DP] has no choice but try to please the DLP. The DP has many things to lose, while the DLP has nothing to lose,” said Yoon Jong-bil, professor of political science at Myongji University.

By Ser Myo-ja, Yang Won-bo []
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