Saenuri still doing damage control

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Saenuri still doing damage control

The ruling Saenuri Party tried to deflect outrage over its shielding of a representative from being arrested on a bribery allegation by proposing an overhaul of criminal procedure laws.

The party is in deep defensive mode after its lawmakers voted to shield Representative Chung Doo-un from arrest in a National Assembly vote Wednesday. The prosecution wanted to arrest Chung, but law enforcement authorities must get approval from the National Assembly to detain a lawmaker while the legislature is in session.

This is an old rule that protected lawmakers from arrest during the time of authoritarian rule. But the ruling party is so embarrassed for having shielded its own member that it is now proposing to jettison that legal safeguard for legislators, while also proposing five other reform measures dealing with legislators, including eradicating physical violence in the National Assembly.

The party fears that its shielding of Chung has outraged voters so much, upholding politicians’ immunity from basic legal procedures, that it could cost it the presidential election in December.

The party’s presidential front-runner Park Geun-hye issued a public apology over the party’s vote to shield Chung Friday. Chung had earlier said he would waive his immunity from arrest, but broke that promise.

If Chung doesn’t show some “tangible measures” soon, such as abandoning his immunity and turning himself in to prosecutors, the party said yesterday it would have to enforce disciplinary measures including asking Chung to leave the party.

The party also said yesterday that floor leader Lee Hahn-koo will resume duties today and speak in front of a negotiating group to discuss six reform measures including immunity from arrest for lawmakers.

Lee, a Park loyalist, initially said he intended to step down from his post over the controversy.

Park Saturday visited Naju in South Jeolla and speaks today at a forum hosted by the Korea News Editors’ Association. In the wake of the Chung controversy, Park cancelled a visit to Daegu last Friday and she will go there tomorrow.

Representative Nam Kyung-pil, a Saenuri Party reformist lawmaker, said at a press conference yesterday that the party “should not apologize for rejecting the motion for detention” but instead “apologize for not fixing the flaws in the law before promising to give up immunity from arrest.”

By Jung Hyo-sik, Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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