Time is running out“If we don’t fight, people will fight on the streets. The National Assembly reflects the conflicts of the society.” That is what a senior assemblyman told first-time lawmaker Hong Jung-wook on the day a brawl took place in the National Assembly. Following that, Hong gave up any hope for a turnaround for the National Assembly. The elite politician in his early 40s declared at the end of last year that he would no longer run for office. He said that four years in the National Assembly had been a series of disappointments and frustrations. “The National Assembly is not a place to re-enact street fights but a place to seek citizens’ understanding and solutions for problems,” Hong recalled. “In the confrontation of the political parties, belief and professional expertise were considered futile and unnecessary.”
When the Democratic United Party’s Kang Bong-kyun, who is almost 70 years old, did not get a nomination in the upcoming general election, he immediately withdrew from the party and expressed his intention to retire. “It was a chance to exit the political scene,” he said. Having served as the presidential secretary for economic affairs and the minister of finance and economy, Kang had first-hand experience in overcoming the economic crisis. Even after deciding to retire, he couldn’t stop worrying about the future of the National Assembly. “During the 18th National Assembly, the trust for the legislative branch fell as the lawmakers continued to only vote for their own party’s stance and engage in physical melees. The 19th National Assembly should begin with self-repentance. Even if the opposition coalition gets the majority, it should not push for legislation unreasonably. If party politics and representative democracy regress once again, there may be no place for politics.”
Independent lawmaker Kim Sung-sik, a former student activist from the late 1970s, is campaigning for re-election. He has been described as the best performing lawmaker in the National Assembly by the media and his colleagues a number of times, but he is not generous about his time in the 18th National Assembly. “The party’s interests were prioritized, and calls for reform and compromise were frustrated and ignored every time. Naturally, the national interests and the concerns of the citizens were neglected.” Formerly affiliated with the Grand National Party, Kim demanded the ruling party’s overhaul at the end of last year as he couldn’t stand the conflict between the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction and the pro-Park Geun-hye group.
The 18th National Assembly is nearing its conclusion in disgrace. The three lawmakers above may come from different generations and have different party affiliations, but they all tried to pursue compromise and reform rather than being political warriors in the Assembly. All three lawmakers had the same experiences and frustrations.
As the 18th National Assembly comes to an end, 405 bills submitted by the government are still gathering dust. The average pending period of the bills is a little over 15 months. One of them is a revision of the law on special education for the disabled, which has been pending for over 1,100 days. The reasoning is that the bill is of low priority, but even bills that are urgent are not processed promptly. The most notable include the legislation for the basic laws on service industry development, a revision of the Capital Market Act and the revision of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act.
Lately, each party says it’s for job creation, assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses and more conveniences for the average Korean. The basic law for service industry development is directly related to job creation. The revision on the Capital Market Act is a necessary legal framework to support small- and medium-sized businesses. The revision of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act would allow easier access to commonly used nonprescription drugs, which will surely bring convenience for everyone.
The 18th National Assembly will end by the end of May. The 19th National Assembly is to begin in June, but it generally takes about two months for the lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties to get settled. The bills that are not handled in the 18th National Assembly will be automatically discarded. When they are resubmitted to the 19th National Assembly, no one knows when they will actually be voted upon.
All attention is on who will win the general election and how the tide in Yeouido will change. But the true worry is that the citizens may once again see exhausting fights and unnecessary battles among political parties with legislative activities abandoned.
Before advocating grand visions such as welfare, democracy and peace, each party needs to handle the urgent bills by the end of May as soon as the April 11 general election is over. That is the duty of the politicians to the citizens.