Landmark anti-terror bill passed

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Landmark anti-terror bill passed

The legislature passed a long-delayed counterterrorism bill Wednesday night, after a historic nine-day filibuster by opposition lawmakers concluded.

The National Assembly voted on the bill, sponsored by the ruling Saenuri Party, at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after Minjoo Party floor leader, Rep. Lee Jong-kul, ended his speech to conclude the filibuster.

Only Saenuri lawmakers attended the vote. The opposition walked out in protest.

The ruling party currently occupies 157 seats in the 293-member National Assembly, enough to hold a vote alone and pass a bill.

Of the 157 lawmakers who voted, 156 supported the counterterrorism bill; one opposed.

The newly established law calls for a counterterrorism center to be set up inside the Prime Minister’s Office and gives the National Intelligence Service (NIS) the authority to collect information, access financial data and eavesdrop on and wiretap possible terror suspects.

The opposition argued that the bill yielded too much power to the NIS, which has consistently interfered in domestic politics.

After the opposition left the floor, the Saenuri Party also agreed to add clauses that require the NIS to inform the prime minister before or after exercising its investigative rights.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the government and the ruling and opposition parties have repeatedly attempted to formulate a counterterrorism law.

However, until Wednesday, no vote had ever taken place due to concerns from lawmakers that the NIS could abuse its emboldened power for domestic surveillance.

The Park Geun-hye administration and the Saenuri Party recently renewed their push, citing escalating threats from North Korea.

The counterterrorism bill was introduced for a vote by Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa on Feb. 23, which prompted the Minjoo Party to wage a filibuster that ultimately lasted 192 hours and 26 minutes.

The legislature also approved about 80 other bills, including a long-overdue electoral map for the April 13 general election.

The new constituency outline comes just 42 days before the polls.

A North Korea human rights bill also passed Wednesday night, 11 years since it was first presented.

A series of economic bills pushed forward by the ruling party and the Park administration, however, remained pending.

The Saenuri demanded that a vote on four bills aimed at restructuring the labor market and a service industry development bill be scheduled for March 10, though the opposition has refused to cooperate.

While the ruling party stresses that the labor reform bills are crucial for job creation, the opposition has argued that the measures will only result in more temporary workers, poorer working conditions and less job security.

Opposition lawmakers also demand that the health and medical service industries be excluded from the service industry development bill.

The prospect of the economic bills being put to a vote, however, is low. Now that the National Assembly has approved the new electoral map, Korea’s politicians are expected to start concentrating all their resources toward their general election campaigns.

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

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