Toward real political reform

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Toward real political reform

The National Assembly’s special committee on political reform approved a set of recommendations to toughen ethics rules that include stronger punishment against physical violence in the Assembly and a ban on having another paid job while serving as a legislator. The committee came up with its first recommendations since it was born through a bipartisan agreement between ruling and opposition parties in January. The recommendations require legal reviews by various standing committees of the legislature. The reforms could take place if the Assembly passes related bills this month.

Supplementary work is necessary during the review process because the committee’s recommendations left out some key issues. They failed to include a scrapping of the pension scheme for legislators that has been criticized as excessive. The committee instead suggested excluding hefty pension payments starting with current members but retaining the scheme for previous members on certain conditions. It also did not offer to cut back salaries for legislators or end immunity from arrest despite promises from both sides of the aisle.

It did promise to toughen punishments for physical violence and ban lawmakers from juggling jobs. Under the recommendations, the National Assembly will create a new law to punish those who hinder law-making procedures with physical violence with heavier penalties than specified under criminal law. In the future, a legislator would have to stake his or her seat before wielding a hammer or igniting tear gas. Violence in the Assembly has long been a shameful tradition.

Actions are more important than words. The reform proposal should not end as more rhetoric. The necessary laws should be passed this month as there are no ruling or opposition parties in reforming politics.

But signs are not promising. On the first day the reforms were announced, legislators across the aisle filed accusations and charges against each other. Suh Sang-kee, Saenuri Party representative and head of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, sued Park Young-sun of the Democratic Party and head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee for tarnishing his reputation by accusing him of collaborating with National Intelligence Service chief Nam Jae-joon. Park filed a countersuit against Suh.

Their actions are a far cry from bipartisan agreement on reform. Lawmakers must iron out differences and conflicts of interest. Who will believe in their promises of reform if they cannot even solve their own problems?
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