Saenuri members walk out of first Assembly session

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Saenuri members walk out of first Assembly session

The first regular session of the 20th National Assembly kicked off Thursday, but it did not take more than an hour for all parliamentary events to come to a sudden halt with the ruling Saenuri Party boycotting all scheduled events in protest of Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.

Trouble began when Saenuri lawmakers raised the issue with Chung’s opening remark and exited the Assembly chamber en masse, claiming the speaker breached the code of conduct by expressing his political views in his speech since his position requires him to be politically neutral.

Standing before fellow lawmakers, Chung called on the Assembly members to set up a special independent investigative body to prevent crimes and corruption by senior government officials, touching on the ongoing scandal involving Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential civil affairs secretary accused of embezzlement and abuse of power.

“The ongoing controversy over the Blue House civil affairs secretary is shameful and embarrassing before the people,” said Chung, who then asked how people would see Woo get questioned by prosecutors while remaining in his post, in an apparent jab at Woo for his refusal to step down.

Chung then demanded lawmakers agree on setting up the independent body that exclusively investigates irregularities by senior officials such as Woo. Chung’s proposal raised the ire of the ruling Saenuri Party because it objects to the establishment of such a body while the opposition Minjoo is in support for it. The Speaker also remarked on the deployment of the U.S.-operated missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, saying the way the government was handling the issue was driving inter-Korea relations toward a dead end and therefore requires a change, incurring the wrath of Saenuri members who then collectively left the chamber.

“Apart from whether we have need for Thaad,” said Chung, “we have had no discussion on the matter ourselves and the decision (for deployment) was made without considering its impact on relations with foreign nations.”

Speaker Chung is a veteran politician who won his Jongno district in Seoul in the April general election, seizing his sixth term.

Chung was able to claim the top Assembly post because traditionally the party that wins the most number of parliamentary seats in the general election produces the Speaker from among its members. Chung, who is now an independent, is originally from the Minjoo Party, which won 123 seats in the April election, one more than the ruling party.

Upset by Chung’s remark, the Saenuri held a supreme council meeting upon leaving the chamber and adopted a resolution calling for Chung’s resignation and apology to the nation.

“I have never seen a case in which the governing party boycotts the parliamentary schedule over a remark by the Speaker,” said Minjoo floor leader Woo Sang-ho. “Is it a responsible stance as governing party to bring all parliamentary schedules to a stop because it was not pleased?”

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