A rare show of bipartisanshipThe 18th National Assembly is more or less done with its official work, although its term formally concludes at the end of May. It managed to save face after passing some key bills before it closed.
The Assembly stamped into law a measure aimed at preventing the use of physical force in the legislature, changing the framework of parliamentary operations. The bill, which restricts railroading through legislature by the majority party and endorses legitimate filibustering, underwent a long debate between the ruling party and the opposition. The law is far from perfect. The majority Saenuri Party fears the system will encourage legislative deadlock over contentious bills. But the Assembly nevertheless demonstrated bipartisanship and revised the bill to the point where it finally passed. Lawmakers from both camps have manifested unprecedented dialogue, compromise and honor to their promises of reform.
Another 64 imperative bills were also legislated. The revised bill to allow police to seek help from mobile phone operators without prior approval from their clients to locate victims in emergency situations is expected to prevent a recurrence of the crime in Suwon, where a woman was discovered brutally raped and murdered because police came too late despite her phone call for help. The revised pharmaceutical law paved the way for consumers to buy simple drugs in convenient stores outside of pharmacies after business hours and on weekends. The law toughening regulations and punitive actions on illegal fishing in Korean waters could stave off piracy by Chinese fishermen, and the law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions had been imperative to uphold international commitments.
But the Assembly nevertheless left much to be desired in its final days. A hundred, or a third of total registered members, were not present to vote on the bills. Of 292 current members, 192 voted on the reform bill to prevent physical force. Other laws saw fewer votes. Most of the absentees were those who failed to get re-elected.
It has been customary for lawmakers who lose in the election to snub subsequent Assembly sessions. They neglect their work even though they are paid until the end of their term. The parties also tolerate such negligence from their unsuccessful members as a kind of consolatory gesture. But we need a mechanism to ensure integrity in the Assembly until the end. Lawmakers who do not attend the Assembly are not worthy of collecting tax-funded salaries.
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