President vetoes Assembly bill

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President vetoes Assembly bill

President Park Geun-hye quashed a bill on Friday that would enable the legislature to hold hearings whenever necessary throughout the year, declaring yet another war against the National Assembly with her unprecedented exercise of veto power from abroad.

While Park was in Ethiopia as a part of her three-nation Africa tour, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn hosted an unscheduled Cabinet meeting on behalf of the president at 9 a.m. on Friday and approved a motion to send back to the National Assembly a contentious revision to the National Assembly Act.

Four hours later, Park finalized the veto from abroad. The president was briefed by Hwang on Thursday night about the veto plan.

This marks the 66th presidential veto in the history of the government, and the first rejection exercised from abroad.

The National Assembly approved on May 19 a revision to the law governing the legislature, so that when more than one-third of the lawmakers on a committee requests or when the committee approves the need for a hearing, one can take place.

The bill, proposed by National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, was initially opposed by the president’s Saenuri Party, as they argued it would give the legislature excessive control over the administration.

But some Saenuri lawmakers not loyal to Park, as well as independents who left the party before the April general election, supported the change. Of the 222 lawmakers who participated in the voting, 117 supported it, 79 opposed it and 26 abstained.

After the bill was sent to the administration to be signed into law, the Blue House repeatedly expressed concerns that it would “immobilize” state affairs.

At the Cabinet meeting Friday morning, Hwang said the revision has a high possibility of disrupting state affairs. He also said it grants excessive power to the legislature to check and monitor the administration.

Minister of Government Legislation Je Jeong-boo held a press conference Friday to explain the veto.

“The hearings on pending affairs may decommission the National Assembly’s audit and inspection of the government as stipulated in the Constitution,” Je said.

“Because the pending issues are too inclusive, the hearings can also put undesirable pressures on the administration and companies.”

Friday’s rejection was Park’s second exercise of veto power; both rejections were made against the National Assembly’s attempts to strengthen its power against the administration.

In June 2015, Park quashed a bill intended to bolster the National Assembly’s authority to demand a change in administrative legislation, such as presidential decrees.

Following her latest veto, the three liberal opposition parties vowed to join forces to fight against the president.

“Park rejected parliamentary democracy,” said Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea.

Rep. Park Jie-won of the People’s Party said the veto completely ripped apart the reconciliation efforts promised during the president’s meeting with political leaders earlier this month. Woo, Park Jie-won and floor leader Roh Hoe-chan of the Justice Party agreed that the three opposition parties will try to reapprove the bill as soon as the incoming National Assembly opens for session on Monday.

It remains to be seen if the incoming National Assembly can override the veto, since the bill was proposed, passed and vetoed during the tenure of the current National Assembly.

“There are legal opinions that it will automatically be discarded when the 19th National Assembly ends its term [on Sunday],” Minister Je said.

“And there are opinions that the 20th National Assembly can still process it again. The National Assembly should make a judgment.”

The current National Assembly ends its term on Sunday, and the incoming National Assembly starts its four-year term on Monday.

The May 19 plenary session, where the contentious bill on hearings was passed, was the final voting session of the current Assembly.

Some law experts, including Prof. Chang Young-soo of Korea University, said the president was granted veto power not to make a final judgment on a bill, but to ask the legislature to reconsider it. Automatically discarding a bill passed by the legislature without reconsidering it violates the constitutional spirit of veto authority, Chang said.

Others, including Prof. Kim Sang-kyum of Dongguk University, said a vetoed bill won’t be handed over to the next National Assembly and will automatically die at the end of the current term.

Even if the vote takes place, the feasibility of reapproving the bill is also low. A two-thirds vote can overturn a presidential veto.

In the upcoming National Assembly, the Minjoo Party occupies 123 seats, the People’s Party holds 38 and the Justice Party has six. If all 300 members attend a voting session, all 167 lawmakers of the three non-Saenuri parties are still 33 short of the number needed to override the veto.

According to presidential sources, the timing of the presidential veto was also meticulously planned so that there would not be enough time to send it back for reconsideration by the current Assembly.

“If Park vetoes it after she returns to Korea on June 5, it will provoke the misunderstanding that she accepts the 20th National Assembly’s right to reconsider and reapprove it,” a Blue House source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

For a legislature to hold a plenary session to vote on the bill again, it needs to announce the plan three days in advance under the National Assembly Act. Because the current National Assembly ends on Sunday, there was no physical time for the lawmakers to call another voting session.

A senior presidential aide said Friday that Park was willing to risk a war against the incoming National Assembly because it is important for the government to do its job.

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

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