Convene the Assembly quicklyThe 18th National Assembly failed to open its final session this week due to a disagreement over a bill prohibiting the use of physical force in the Assembly and lawmaking process. As a result, other more urgent and important bills were sacrificed. The Assembly, which has been tainted by scenes of violence including the use of hammers and tear gas, seems intent on wrapping up its tenure in a disgraceful and shameful way in its final month. But it must reopen to finish its work.
The ruling Saenuri Party is culpable for causing the dispute over the law to ban physical force in the Assembly. Saenuri floor-leader Hwang Woo-yeo initiated the revised bill and passed it through the steering committee last week. He negotiated and won agreement from the opposition to open a session to pass the bill. But at the last minute, he suddenly demanded changes in the law and failed to win a consensus from the opposition.
However, this does not mean Hwang is solely to blame. The Saenuri Party has acted irresponsibly by changing its position on the law - which puts the majority party at a disadvantage as it imposes restrictions on unilateral motions for a vote, or on the filibuster process to delay or prevent such votes - after the party fared better than expected in the recent legislative elections.
Clearly, the law itself needs fixing. The reform bill would require three-fifths of attendees to pass a bill, instead of just over 50 percent at present, but this does not sit well with the political reality in Korea. A three-fifths majority can exist in a political environment like the U.S. Senate, where legislators are free to vote as they wish regardless of their party platforms. But in Korea, lawmakers vote on contentious bills according to the party consensus. The three-fifths majority guideline won’t get any bills passed.
As such, Hwang should come up with a solution aimed at fostering more bipartisanship. He also needs to apologize for the lack of responsibility demonstrated during the lawmaking process and work together with the opposition to come up with more realistic laws. The unilateral filing of a vote by the speaker that could spark physical clashes should be restricted, but the guidelines on a three-fifths majority that could cripple the Assembly also need reworking. Punitive actions on lawmakers who resort to physical violence should be strengthened, and the ethics committee also needs more power of enforcement. Moreover, the opposition should not compromise other important bills because of a complaint over one bill.