A litmus test for Assembly reform

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A litmus test for Assembly reform

The Assembly will cast votes tomorrow on whether to arrest independent lawmaker Park Joo-sun and Saenuri Party lawmaker Chung Doo-un for charges of vote rigging and taking bribes, respectively. The first “free vote” on the fate of their colleagues in the new Assembly will be a litmus test for legislative reform.

Both the ruling and opposition camps have vied for relinquishing their privileges as lawmakers - including a drastic cut of their post-retirement pension and toughening the role of the Special Committee on Ethics. Their reform agendas also include their cherished prerogative of immunity from arrest. The ruling Saenuri Party has vowed to give it up and the main opposition Democratic United Party pledged to hold a public hearing on the issue.

Starting with the 17th-century British Parliament, lawmakers’ privilege of exemption from apprehension was aimed at protecting representative politics from unnecessary interruptions through the process of seeking their approval on arrest during parliamentary sessions. In the past, it could shield anti-government legislators from arrest by an authoritarian regime. As such worries have now almost disappeared, the legislature should comply with the judiciary’s request if it is based on solid evidence.

In fact, the prerogative has often been abused to protect colleagues regardless of wrongdoing. Thus, only nine out of 45 requests for consent on arrests were approved due to parties’ stratagems or emotional ties, damaging public trust.

Representative Park was sentenced to two years in prison in the first trial on charges of rigging the mobile vote ahead of the April election. Some lawmakers assert the court’s arrest request should be shelved as he appealed to a higher court. But the first trial’s sentence should be implemented as it says and the lawmakers must cooperate to restore the judicial system.

Representative Chung is under suspicion of having been on the scene when Lee Sang-deuk, elder brother of President Lee Myung-bak, took bribes of 300 million won ($263,100) from a CEO of an embattled savings bank and loaded the money bag into his car trunk. He also faces charges of taking 100 million won in bribes from the same CEO. Representatives must treat the judiciary’s request to arrest their peers like an arrest on ordinary citizens. The same standards should also be applied to DUP floor leader Park Jie-won who’s under investigation for savings bank corruption.

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