Reform comes after meetingIn a rare move, the National Assembly is pushing ahead with internal reform, including the abolition of lawmakers’ privileges. Leading the campaign to curtail their vested rights, the ruling Saenuri Party adopted a resolution to reduce them in six ways earlier this month, with each task force working to put those ideas into action. Despite resistance to the makeover, the ruling party even returned their salaries for the month of June based on the principle of “no work, no pay” since the 19th Assembly couldn’t convene due to the pointed conflict over the allotment of committee chairmanship to each party. The main opposition Democratic United Party now came up with its own proposals to slash their prerogatives on Sunday.
Both parties’ reform packages look similar as they include a radical reduction of their pensions, a ban on holding extra jobs, prohibition of abuse of immunity from arrest and reinforcing the role of the Special Committee on Ethics. In addition, the DUP is considering ways to allow constituents to recall their representatives, though it refuses to jump on the “no work, no pay” bandwagon.
The ruling and opposition camps’ initiatives, however, are a long time coming. We have often seen their commitments fizzle out over and over. Thanks to a generous post-retirement pension, each lawmaker can receive 1.2 million won ($1,032) a month from age 65 even though he or she worked as a representative for only a month. Some 94 of 300 lawmakers of the current Assembly have extra jobs, and 25 of them receive extra payments. As long as lawmakers who serve as members of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee earn extra money for their role as legal counsel, they can hardly be motivated for judicial reform. Lawmakers’ privilege of immunity from arrest was also used as a shield for protecting their colleagues, not to mention the special ethics committee, which became a tool for embracing their beleaguered friends. At the 18th Assembly, even a lawmaker from the splinter Democratic Labor Party was not censured after he threw a tear-gas bomb in the main chamber of the Assembly.
Voters still cast suspicion on whether it will succeed or not. The proposals by politicians are so radical that a lot of obstacles await. The residents’ recall system, for instance, is very susceptible to pressure from interest groups, which may also violate lawmakers’ constitutional rights. That’s why it needs an elaborate discussion process.
Despite their boastful pledges, politicians are still keeping the National Assembly shut. The DUP’s insistence that the issue of the MBC strike be dealt with through hearings can hardly be justified, as it can effectively be covered by a standing committee after the Assembly opens. Giving up their privileges should come after opening the legislative body.