Korea’s do-nothing 19th Assembly

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Korea’s do-nothing 19th Assembly

The National Assembly has been completely paralyzed by the political warfare between the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy over the special bill to investigate the Sewol ferry disaster.

In the past three months, in fact, the assemblymen have passed no pending bills.

At a general meeting of incumbent lawmakers of the NPAD yesterday, Rep. Woo Sang-ho said, “We probably wouldn’t be able to hold [a plenary session].”

Rep. Lee Seok-hyun, vice speaker of the National Assembly, said party members were not hurrying to hold a plenary session.

“Rather than that [a plenary session], they are suggesting we protest in day and night shifts at Gwanghwamun Square [for the Sewol ferry bill],” Lee said.

Some observers were wondering if yesterday’s meeting of the NPAD lawmakers would restart work on pending bills to normalize the work of the Assembly, which has been disrupted by the Sewol bill.

Since they were elected in the April 2012 elections, lawmakers of the 19th National Assembly have passed only 11.7 percent of proposed bills, 3,157 out of 10,897.

That is the lowest record for any Assembly.

Lawmakers have passed no bills since 76 were passed at a plenary session on May 2, 115 days ago. Although they held some plenary sessions after that, they merely discussed electing a new National Assembly speaker or made some speeches regarding current affairs.

Since May 2, they have canceled all plenary sessions scheduled to pass proposed bills.

Since two new floor leaders - Lee Wan-koo and Park Young-sun - took up their position, they have simply struggled over the special Sewol bill.

NPAD lawmakers put the Sewol bill as their top priority and pledged not to pass other bills if the ruling party would not agree with them over the bill.

But lawmakers have received their monthly salaries.

The annual salary of an incumbent lawmaker in Korea is 137.96 million won ($135,148), 5.6 times more than the country’s GDP per capita in 2013.

Considering they have not passed a single bill for more than 100 days, the 300 lawmakers of the 19th Assembly received 45.52 million won each without working on legislation during the period.

The 19th assemblymen have actually stopped working on legislation since the December 2012 presidential election as they found themselves in a series of political fights on issues such as the National Intelligence Service’s smear campaign against former NPAD presidential candidate Moon Jae-in; former president Roh Moo-hyun’s controversial remarks allegedly disavowing the Northern Limit Line; the arrest and indictment of Rep. Lee Seok-ki from the Unified Progressive Party for allegedly plotting a rebellion; and the special law to investigate the Sewol ferry’s sinking and botched rescue efforts.

Repeated public rallies by opposition lawmakers were also a factor preventing the passing of legislation.

NPAD lawmakers staged several rallies outside the Assembly, preventing bills from going forward. The National Assembly Advancement Act, a newly passed law, forbids the majority party from unilaterally sending a bill to be voted on during a plenary session without the consent of three-fifths of incumbent lawmakers. The ruling party currently holds 158 of the 300-seat assembly.

Opposition lawmakers have staged rallies for various issues.

One of them was held at Seoul Plaza for 101 days when NPAD lawmakers condemned the online NIS campaign against its presidential candidate, Moon between Aug. 1 and Nov. 10, 2013. Party leaders camped out in a tent in front of City Hall, trying to rally public criticism against the Park Geun-hye administration during the president’s first year.

Last February, the NPAD started another protest to demand a probe into the NIS after it charged a North Korean defector with spying on other defectors in Seoul.

They also called upon the ruling party to abolishing its nomination process for the June general elections, which both parties were supposed to do in order to eradicate corruption-ridden nominations ahead of elections.

Ahead of July 30 by-elections, NPAD lawmakers held a general meeting at Gwanghwamun Square, not at the party’s building in Yeouido, western Seoul, to rally public criticism of the Park administration.

Their efforts were in vain as shown by their crushing defeat in the June elections and the July by-elections.

However, many hardline, hawkish members of the NPAD remain committed to their anti-government strategy, members told the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The reason why we failed to draw much public support was because we made little achievement in the previous rally at Seoul Plaza,” an NPAD lawmaker said on the condition of anonymity. “We split our fight against the ruling party by protesting at the assembly and at outdoor rallies at the same time.”

“Many members are blaming Park Young-sun, the floor leader, as she failed at the previous negotiations with the ruling party over the Sewol ferry bill,” another NPAD lawmaker said. “They are saying her leadership has failed.”

At the general meeting of the NPAD lawmakers yesterday, the floor leader, Park, started the talks by saying “I’m so sorry to you for causing concerns.” The final conclusion of the opposition lawmakers was still, “We should fight to the end.”

BY KANG TAE-HWA, KWON HO [heejin@joongang.co.kr ]

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