Wrist slaps too light for brawlersThe 18th National Assembly, which has about a month left on its four-year tenure, plans to vote on a bill to prevent the use of physical force in the Assembly and lawmaking process. The bill proposes restricting the grounds on which a majority party can file for a vote in the absence of a consensus with other legislative members and allow a filibuster, a legitimate procedure for the minority party or individuals aiming to delay or prevent such a vote. Any member trying to disrupt the legislative order would face punitive actions. The bill is a step forward, but it raises questions about feasibility.
When a ruling or majority party attempts to unilaterally vote on a bill, the minority opposition usually rushes to encircle the speaker’s podium and fistfight in order to prevent the vote being stamped. Recently, the annual budget bill, or contentious proposed laws like the media industry reform bill, have led to physical clashes. In the case of the budget bill, this caused it to drag on beyond its Dec. 2 deadline. But revisions to the bill will minimize the interference of political disputes in the future.
The revised bill concerning the use of physical force requires punitive action to be taken against lawmakers who disrupt legislative procedures, for instance, by banning their entry to the Assembly for three months and cutting their allowances. But these measures are too light to be totally effective, especially when lawmakers routinely threaten to resign from their posts in protest of new bills. Recently, for example, three members of the opposition Democratic Party handed in their resignations to protest the passage of the media law. Moreover, if all the opposition lawmakers occupy the speaker’s podium to disrupt a vote, it would be impossible to suspend them all. To make matters worse, any punitive actions require the approval of the National Assembly. This means the filibuster mechanism can be exploited to escape the punishment, rendering the law useless.
Physical violence at the National Assembly must be contained by self-discipline and stiffer penalties. As a filibuster can place a burden on both the ruling and opposition parties, they should try to iron out their differences before going to a vote. If they fail to reach an agreement, the opposition should take a legal filibuster procedure to oppose the law. If the situation deteriorates and physical confrontations ensue, the offenders should be charged and indicted. It is up to lawmakers to compensate for loopholes in the current bill by demonstrating self-restraint and dignity.