Paralysis continues at Assembly

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Paralysis continues at Assembly

Negotiations between the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to end a standoff in the parliament foundered on Tuesday, failing to meet a deadline set by the National Assembly speaker to end weeks of paralysis.

Speaker Chung Se-kyun had given both parties until 2 p.m. Tuesday to end the wrangling but neither side compromised as of press time, casting a shadow over the Moon Jae-in administration’s first anniversary this Thursday.

The key bone of contention is an independent probe of an online opinion manipulating scandal allegedly linked to a lawmaker from the DP, Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo. A power blogger who went by the nickname Druking was arrested in March on suspicions of using software to fiddle with comments on Naver, the country’s largest internet portal, by manipulating “like” counters on certain political comments. Kim is suspected of ordering Druking to use the scheme to help Moon during last year’s presidential election.

The LKP called for an independent probe into the Druking case early last month, and has since been boycotting all voting sessions in the National Assembly, including a vote on a supplementary budget worth 3.9 trillion won ($3.6 billion) proposed by the government on April 6.

This week, the DP has suggested to the LKP they simultaneously pass the bills for the additional budget and the independent probe on May 24; spell out the purpose of the independent probe bill as a “truth-finding” investigation of Druking’s illegal online opinion-rigging; and have the LKP recommend an independent counsel while allowing the DP a chance to veto their choice.

The LKP didn’t accept those terms.

“We couldn’t accept the offer,” said LKP’s floor leader Kim Sung-tae, “because they’re telling us they’re going to open an independent probe as late as possible, tap an independent counsel that fits their taste, and force us not to change a bit of the supplementary budget.” Kim also took issue with the name of the probe bill, saying the DP was trying to distance itself from the scandal by wiping Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo’s name from it.

Rep. Woo Won-sik, DP’s floor leader, accused the LKP of trying to wreak havoc in the parliament.

In earlier talks between the two sides, the main issue being disputed was ratifying the Panmunjom Declaration, an agreement signed between President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27 during a bilateral summit.

As the LKP adamantly refused to support the inter-Korean agreement and urged the DP to agree in opening an independent probe into the Druking case as soon as possible, DP’s floor leader Woo said the vote to ratify the declaration can be put off until after the North Korea-U.S. summit is held, a concession that failed to turn the table around.

Moon urged the National Assembly to pass the supplementary budget while presiding over a cabinet meeting in the Blue House Tuesday, saying the general public “would find it hard to understand why the parliament was connecting a political issue with a non-political issue like an extra budget to help people’s livelihoods.”

In a pep talk to his aides, Moon advised them not to lose their “initial intention” since coming to office. In highlighting Parents’ Day, Moon vowed to reinforce welfare programs for dementia treatment as well.

Relations between the DP and LKP deteriorated over the past weekend when the LKP’s floor leader Kim was punched in the face by a 31-year-old man on Saturday at the National Assembly. At the time, Kim was on his third day of a hunger strike calling for an independent probe into the Druking case.

As Kim’s aides tackled the suspect to the ground, he yelled and made claims that he was a “retard” who never dated a woman in his life, at one point expressing anger that the LKP was opposing efforts by the Moon administration to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration.

Kim went to a nearby hospital for medical treatment and went back to his protest in front of the main National Assembly building that night wearing a neck brace.

The LKP called the assault a “political terror attack.”

Before a local court was to decide on Monday whether the suspect should be detained, a man who introduced himself as the suspect’s father pled for mercy in a letter issued to local media outlets, saying his son was a “naive young man” who “pursued a life serving others and sacrificing himself.”

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