Minjoo decides to wind down record filibuster

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Minjoo decides to wind down record filibuster

The leadership of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea has decided to end a week-long filibuster against a controversial counterterrorism bill, but the move faced resistance from some of its lawmakers on Tuesday.

Leaders of the Minjoo Party, including interim Chairman Kim Chong-in, floor leader Lee Jong-kul and senior lawmaker Park Young-sun decided late Monday night to end the filibuster that started at 7:06 p.m. on Feb. 23.

Lee announced Monday night that he would hold a press conference at 9 a.m. Tuesday to declare the end of the filibuster. But nine minutes before the event, he postponed it.

“The Minjoo Party will end the filibuster against the counterterrorism bill before the end of today,” Lee said. “We will first collect the opinions of our lawmakers through a general assembly and announce our position in detail.”

Shortly after National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa used his authority to call a vote on the counterterrorism bill sponsored by the ruling Saenuri Party, the Minjoo Party started a filibuster by opposition lawmakers. The bill would establish a counterterrorism center inside the Prime Minister’s Office and give the National Intelligence Service (NIS) the mandate to collect information. The opposition said it would give too much authority to the NIS, which has persistently involved itself in domestic politics.

As of 11:06 a.m. Tuesday, the opposition filibuster exceeded 160 hours. Later in the afternoon, Minjoo Rep. Ahn Min-seok started a speech to become the 31st speaker.

Opposition lawmakers far surpassed a previous world record of 58 hours for a filibuster set by the New Democratic Party of Canada in 2011.

The National Assembly was paralyzed. The National Election Commission presented a long-delayed new electoral map for the April 13 general election to the legislature on Sunday, but voting could not take place.

Fearing the party would be blamed for derailing the upcoming election, Minjoo leaders decided Monday night to end the filibuster.

Floor leader Lee, who has been a strong supporter of the filibuster, reluctantly agreed.

The floor leader, however, faced resistance from other lawmakers, particularly those who had already taken turns talking against the counterterrorism bill for hours over the past week.

“We spent more than 150 hours telling the people that this bill is problematic, and I don’t know what to say now,” Rep. Kim Kwang-jin, who started the filibuster as its first speaker, wrote on his Twitter account.

“We started it, but this filibuster doesn’t just belong to the opposition party,” Minjoo Rep. Eun Soo-mi said, criticizing the leadership for making a unilateral decision to end it.

Rep. Lee Hack-young wrote on Twitter that the floor leader must insist on continuing the filibuster. “We may fail when we cannot hang on anymore, but we cannot quit,” he said.

Despite the protest, the Minjoo Party was likely to end the filibuster Tuesday night. “We delayed the announcement because of the protesting lawmakers,” said Rep. Lee Chun-seok, deputy floor leader of the Minjoo Party. “But the decision won’t be reversed at the general assembly of lawmakers [scheduled for Tuesday evening].

“The general assembly sometimes makes a decision,” he said. “Sometimes we seek the lawmakers’ understanding for a decision already made or decide the next move. This evening’s meeting will be the latter.”

Speculation was high that Minjoo floor leader Lee would likely be the final speaker of the filibuster.

If the Minjoo Party ends its filibuster, a vote will immediately take place on the counterterrorism bill, since it was already introduced by the speaker last week. A voting session is scheduled for Wednesday, and other pending bills including the new electoral map will be voted on at the session.

The ruling party is also preparing for a voting session.

According to Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the Saenuri Party earlier on Tuesday, the voting was expected to take place either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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