Foiled opposition stages walkout
The ruling party’s ramming through of the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement has paralyzed the legislature as opposition parties walked away from all legislative activities yesterday and vowed to lead protests in the streets.
The long-stalled trade pact was ratified Tuesday after the Grand National Party blindsided liberal opposition lawmakers with a surprise floor vote in a chaotic session complete with a tear gas attack in the main chamber.
To protest the GNP’s successful gambit, the Democratic and Democratic Labor parties announced that they would boycott all legislative sessions. The move immediately stopped a scheduled review of next year’s budget, putting an earlier bipartisan promise to pass the fiscal plan by Dec. 2 in jeopardy.
Deliberations of other bills pending at committees were also canceled. Seven standing committees were to have sessions yesterday, but the main opposition Democrats boycotted all of them.
It will also take more time to confirm two new Supreme Court justices. The appointments were to be confirmed on Tuesday.
The Grand National Party said it will wait until the end of this week to try to persuade the opposition lawmakers to return to work and refrain from holding sessions unilaterally by using its majority. “Starting next week, we will have to resume budget deliberations,” said Representative Lee Myong-gyu, deputy floor leader of the GNP. “The DP cannot forever boycott them.”
For now, the Democratic Party showed no signs of a willingness to cooperate with the ruling party. Shortly after Tuesday’s ratification, the DP held a five-hour lawmakers’ caucus and decided to challenge the legitimacy of the ratification by filing a petition to the Constitutional Court, Kim Yoo-jung, the DP spokeswoman, said yesterday.
“To remove toxic clauses such as the investor-state dispute settlement provision, we will begin legal, political and spiritual battles to void the FTA ratification,” Kim said.
About 50 lawmakers staged an overnight sit-in inside the main chamber of the legislature. The DP also held another gathering in the main lobby of the National Assembly building to protest the ratification.
In a leadership meeting yesterday morning, DP Representative Kim Jin-pyo, the party’s floor leader, said the Lee Myung-bak administration and the ruling party are to be blamed for the legislative paralysis.
“Lee must apologize for pulling the strings from behind,” Kim said. “National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, Vice Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, GNP Chairman Hong Joon-yo and floor leader Hwang Woo-yea must step down from their posts.”
Eighteen leaders of the liberal opposition parties and heads of progressive civic groups and the labor community gathered yesterday to discuss their next move.
“Yesterday will be recorded as the death of this nation’s democracy,” DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said. “The five liberal opposition parties and the civic community vow to void the ratification. If it is not voided, the DP will try to achieve the goal by winning the legislative and presidential elections next year to have a renegotiation of the Korea-U.S. FTA.”
Sohn also said the DP will form a special committee to carry out systematic anti-FTA campaigns. Representative Chung Dong-young, who has led the DP’s fight against the FTA (after reversing his support for it when he served as the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s key foreign policy maker), will head the committee.
DLP Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee tearfully condemned the ratification. “I apologize to the people for having failed to block it,” she said. “Let’s reject all legislative schedules and go out into the streets to fight.”
She also said the liberals and progressives should initiate campaigns against the ruling GNP and the Lee administration, and others agreed.
“We have warned repeatedly that the consequences would be death,” said Lee Kwang-suk, head of the Korean Peasants League. “The nation’s 3.5 million farmers will rise to change the situation.”
Kim Young-hoon, head of the militant umbrella union Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said members of the union will try to force President Lee out of office. “There will be no way to reverse it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the GNP yesterday started damage control to protect its lawmakers from a backlash from the ratification. Kim Gi-hyeon, the GNP spokesman, said yesterday in a radio interview that the GNP did not use any physical force in the main chamber during the ratification. “None of the GNP lawmakers took part in the violence,” Kim said. Twenty-two Grand National lawmakers have taken public vows not to run for re-election next April if they ended up being involved in physical violence in the legislature.
The Blue House also tried to smooth ruffled feathers. “The government must thoroughly follow up on all the issues raised during the lawmakers’ discussions,” President Lee said yesterday morning at a ministerial meeting on the FTA. “It took four years and seven months for the ratification, but I think the period was an opportunity for the government to follow up on its shortcomings.”
He also stressed the importance of measures to protect the farmers and small businesses, urging the government to provide support to improve their competitiveness rather than just paying compensation.
Lee will sign the Korea-U.S. FTA into law at a cabinet meeting next Tuesday.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]