Chairmanship too early to pushIn negotiations with the ruling Saenuri Party to convene the 19th National Assembly, the major opposition Democratic United Party has demanded that a chairmanship of a standing committee be allotted to the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party. Currently with 16 standing committees and two special committees under its umbrella, the Assembly has traditionally assigned chairmanships of standing committees according to the seats each party obtained from elections, so the Saenuri Party is expected to have 10 chairmanships and the DUP eight. The DUP appears to have made such a proposal as an extension of the April 11 legislative election in which it formed a strategic alliance with the UPP to beat the ruling party.
The Saenuri Party argues that a party with less than 20 seats - a minimum requirement for a legislative bargaining position in the Assembly - has customarily not been granted a chairmanship. In fact, the issue of assigning a chairmanship to the UPP should be determined by the standards of public trust and political credibility rather than by the capacity to form an alliance with other parties big enough to meet the minimum requirement.
The UPP is under investigation by the prosecution for charges of massive vote rigging in a primary to pick proportional representatives before the April election. Some lawmakers-elect, including Lee Seok-gi from the mainstream faction, even served jail terms for their pro-North Korea activities in 1980s. Even though Lee was granted pardon and later reinstated, a multitude of our citizens still believe that he has not given up his pro-North philosophies, even amid persistent public distrust.
Standing committee chairmanships are influential posts in the Assembly, as they exercise huge power on how to steer the committees. For example, the North Korea Human Rights Bill which the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee passed in the 18th Assembly, was later repealed because the Legislation and Judiciary Committee chairman from the opposition DUP refused to submit the bill to his committee. Standing committee chairmanships should be held by politicians who can earn the public’s trust for their orientations on such critical issues as national security.
The UPP has a long way to go. It must first address its shameful past by fully cooperating with the prosecution, not to mention clearing suspicion of its members’ blind respect for North Korea. The question of allotting a chairmanship comes next.