A speaker’s moment
Six-term lawmaker Kang Chang-hee of the ruling Saenuri Party was elected as a nominee for the 19th National Assembly speaker. The post customarily goes to the majority party. Kang’s appointment has several points of significance as he would become the first Assembly speaker from Chungcheong Province. And as a key aide to Park Geun-hye, his lofty position in the legislature would likely give the presidential hopeful from the ruling party more clout.
The 19th Assembly started its term with challenges and tasks already laid out. Kang and the Assembly will have to deal with the scandal-enwrapped new members from the Unified Progressive Party and a tense relationship leading up the presidential election later in the year, while enforcing the new law that allows filibuster to prevent physical melees in the legislature. Skilled politicking to make negotiations work will be needed more than ever.
The 300-seat Assembly is almost equally divided between the ruling Saenuri Party, which holds 150 seats, and the other half shared by the major opposition, led by the Democratic United Party with 127 seats. The two sides are engaged in a tug of war of executive posts at standing committees. Addressing the minor opposition UPP’s rigged primary in March, which benefitted pro-North Korean members, will be difficult as the DUP needs the left-wing party’s cooperation for the presidential election. Moreover, lawmakers are under restraint from the new legal guideline that prohibits arbitrary and violent action. Kang, therefore, has a great responsibility in his new role. The Assembly speaker has authorized power, but speakers usually act under the order of the Blue House. Such passiveness won’t be good enough in this legislature.
The speaker must stick to his political neutrality. To assure it, the speaker usually divorces from his party. But so far, pledging distance from the party has only been a gesture. The new speaker should be able to draw confidence from both the ruling and opposition parties and act according to his vested power. The speaker is authorized to make a decision to proceed with legislative processes when the ruling and opposition parties fail to reach an agreement. He should practice delicate arbitration to draw bipartisanship.
One of the first things he must do is reinforce the ethics committee. The role of the committee is important because some of the new members have suspicious ideological and ethical problems. We hope Kang will use his experience and broadmindedness to live up his new role.