Terrorism bill stymies electoral map negotiations

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Terrorism bill stymies electoral map negotiations

With less than two months left before the general election, the country remains without a valid constituency map after the latest round of negotiations by the ruling and opposition parties fell apart Monday afternoon over the passage of an unrelated bill.

Negotiators from the ruling Saenuri and the main opposition Minjoo parties, led by their floor leaders, met at 2:30 p.m. to discuss a new electoral map for the general election and other pending bills. The meeting, however, ended two hours later without an agreement.

The two sides agreed that they would resume negotiations later in the evening at 9 p.m.

According to the deputy floor leaders of both parties, the talks ended over disagreement on the anti-terrorism bill. While the Saenuri Party demanded the passage of the bill at the voting session today, citing escalating threats from North Korea, the Minjoo Party argued that the current plan would give unnecessary authority to the National Intelligence Service.

“We want the electoral map to be decided as soon as possible for the election, but the Saenuri Party wants it to be voted on with the anti-terrorism bill,” said Rep. Kim Gi-juhn, deputy floor leader of the Minjoo Party.

Saenuri deputy floor leader Rep. Kim Yong-nam said the ruling party could not accept the opposition’s proposal because it was highly likely that the legislature would end its term without passing the anti-terrorism bill, if the new electoral map is approved first.

The current electoral map was ruled unconstitutional in 2014 over disproportions in voting populations, and the Constitutional Court ordered the National Assembly to create a new constituency map by the end of 2015. Although the National Election Commission is scheduled Wednesday to start creating a registry for overseas voters, no new electoral map had been approved as of Monday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung and Kim Chong-in, the interim leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party, met with National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa and vowed to take care of it before the end of the day. However, the Saenuri leader made it clear that he would take the new electoral map hostage in order to pass other pending bills.

“We need to hold an election, so the floor leaders of the two parties will talk later in the day over the election law and other pending bills, including the anti-terrorism bill and the North Korea human rights bill,” Saenuri Chairman Kim said. “We agreed to put in all our efforts to strike a deal this time.”

At the end of last year, the Saenuri Party made it clear that there would be no redistricting without the passage of key economic bills and an anti-terrorism bill.

President Park Geun-hye’s distrust in the main opposition party over its refusal to cooperate in legislative activities once the electoral map is approved was reflected in the ruling party’s negotiation strategy.

When the president addressed the National Assembly on Feb. 16 to discuss the latest security crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a fifth of her address involved urging lawmakers to approve pending bills.

Sources said that the president had told Saenuri Chairman Kim and floor leader Won Yoo-chul that the passage of other bills was more important than the electoral map.

“In the political arena, revising the election law to create a new map may be more important, but the people are more desperately in need of the pending economic bills,” Rep. Won told the JoongAng Ilbo. “It’s embarrassing to face the people right now, so we will pass the economic bills together with the election map.”

Inaction by the National Assembly speaker has also fueled the current impasse. After lawmakers missed the Nov. 13 deadline to redraw the electoral map, Chung issued several ultimatums, warning that if the Assembly failed to act, he would.

He has yet to do so, however.

“The negotiations have been a total catastrophe,” said Yoo Sung-jin, a political science professor at Ewha Womans University. “The leaders of both parties are acting irresponsibly, just holding meaningless meetings over and over again.”

Political observers have complained about the lack of enthusiasm among incumbent lawmakers in revising the electoral map, citing that they have a bigger advantage over first-time candidates when redistricting is delayed and campaign periods are shorter.

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE KA-YOUNG [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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