The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It is nothing unusual, but the National Assembly’s deadlock is, once again, deplorable. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) are just walking their own paths. As conflict is a daily part political life, there should be no need for the public to get angry about it. Yet we wonder what has really caused such a stalemate in the National Assembly.
Is it about the people’s livelihoods? No, it is not. Is it about improving the people’s rights or reinforcing public safety? Again, it is not. The lawmakers don’t even make an attempt at those issues. They always fight to demonstrate their loyalty toward those with power and secure their own interests.
When Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the LKP, was giving a speech on March 12, her DP counterpart, Hong Young-pyo, ran toward the National Assembly speaker’s seat. He then asked the Special Committee on Ethics to hold a disciplinary hearing on Rep. Na, cutting off any channel for dialogue.
“We are embarrassed by the government’s endless, groundless defense of North Korea,” Na said. “I don’t want to hear the humiliating expression any more that the president of the Republic of Korea is a top spokesman of North Korea.”
Her remarks may be provocative, but they are not serious enough to prompt a deadlock at the legislature. Rep. Na was quoting a U.S. media report. The U.S. politicians and government’s dissatisfaction with President Moon Jae-in is nothing new. It is true that Moon has defended North Korea more than an ally, perhaps as he was playing the role of mediator.
Furthermore, as Na spoke in a National Assembly session, she has immunity. There is no law punishing an insult directed at the head of state. Immunity, one of our lawmakers’ privileges, helps them remain critical of heads of state, particularly when they are considered the absolute power, as was previously the case.
The ruling party is now calling the reporter who wrote the article a traitor; when you see such treatment of the international press, Korean reporters can easily guess what pressures they will face when they are critical of the government.
It is actually nothing new: in 1979, Kim Young-sam, then head of the New Democratic Party, was expelled from the National Assembly after he demanded the U.S. government withdraw its support for the Park Chung Hee regime in an interview with the New York Times. The Republican Party and a group of lawmakers loyal to Park kicked Kim out of the legislature for the remark. That led to protests in Busan and Masan in 1978, and eventually to Park’s assassination the following year.
In 1975, Rep. Kim Ok-sun said creating a crisis for war was President Park’s attempt to achieve a dictatorship. Ruling party lawmakers stopped him and submitted a motion to expel him from the legislature for a disgraceful act. Kim, then, voluntarily resigned.
At a legislative session in 1986, Rep. Yoo Sung-hwan said the country’s motto must be unification, not anti-communism. For this, he lost his seat and was jailed.
It is devastating to look back on those incidents, although the Moon administration is proud of a “candlelight” government elected by the people.
The rival parties are having an extreme confrontation over a plan to change the election law. One side says they want to designate it as a fast-track item, while the other side threatens that all lawmakers will step down. Last year, five major parties agreed to revise the election law to introduce a new proportional representation system. The LKP, however, delayed the plan and presented a bill that is completely different. It wants no change. Instead, it wants to reduce the number of proportional representatives to secure its own districts.
Rep. Na said the new proportional representation system, proposed by the DP and other opposition parties, will weaken the power of the legislature so it cannot check the imperial presidency of the country. Looking back on history, a president’s party is often the largest party. Therefore, the ruling party, which controls the majority, will end up a rubber-stamp body.
The LKP and the DP are no different. Their lawmakers are acting in the same way to show their loyalty to an imperial president, whether it is Park Geun-hye or Moon.
The Korean people rarely give the majority support to a particular political party. The current proposal was to form a National Assembly by reflecting the sentiments of the people. Whether it is the largest party or the second largest party, there is no way for one party to control everything unless it talks and compromises with other parties. A president must persuade opposition parties. Only then cam the National Assembly be an independent body.
Moon’s approval rating, which had long been high, recently plummeted. Last week, both Gallup Korea and Realmeter polls showed that his rating hit the lowest ever. The DP and the LKP are achieving similar levels of support. It has been rare for one party’s rating to go up for its accomplishments. Their ratings go up because rivals make mistakes. The LKP, which was about to dismantle in the aftermath of the failed presidency of Park Geun-hye, could revive thanks to the outreach of the DP, particularly Moon.
The two rival parties are in a symbiotic relationship in a strange way. They exchange vulgar expressions to raise ratings. There is no room for a reasonable, alternative political force to grow. Only sensational expressions prevail. The people also formed factions as they are easily swept into the propaganda.
The LKP has lost the opportunity for true reform. It created an emergency committee, but nothing changed. It is now having yet another factional battle between Park loyalists and others. The people are fed up with repeated apologies from the two parties, because nothing has changed.
Without ending this horrible symbiotic relationship, there will be no political advancement in this country.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 19, Page 35