DP, 3 parties agree on election reform, agency

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DP, 3 parties agree on election reform, agency

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three minor opposition parties on Monday came to an agreement to fast-track bills on electoral reform and establishing an independent agency that will focus on crimes committed by high-ranking officials.

This agreement between the DP and the Bareunmirae Party (BP), Justice Party and the Party for Democracy and Peace, which comes after months of partisan wrangling over the bills’ contents, brings the country a step closer to revising its electoral system for next year’s parliamentary elections and creating a powerful investigative body that can curb abuses by top officials in law enforcement and government.

The election bill would adjust the electoral formula so that half of each party’s proportional representation seats are distributed according to their party vote share. The new government official investigative unit proposed by the second bill would have the power to launch probes, seek arrest warrants and indict corrupt prosecutors, judges and top police officers. Both of these bills, as a well as a third on adjusting the power balance between the police and prosecution, have been put on the legislative fast-track with Monday’s agreement.

While ordinary legislative procedures require the bills to go through standing committees, where they could be obstructed indefinitely by opposing lawmakers and quashed before ever reaching the floor for a general vote, subjecting them to fast-track review gives a maximum limit of 330 days for committees to discuss the bills before they are voted on.

As one of President Moon Jae-in’s core election promises, the formation of an investigative agency has long been proposed as a solution for the excessive indictment powers of the prosecution. Despite strong public support for the bill, it had long been held back in the legislature as a result of heavy resistance from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and the DP’s lack of a parliamentary majority.

Last year, the DP found an opportunity to persuade the three minor parties to lend their support to the bill through another hot button political issue - electoral reform. With the clock ticking down until the next legislative elections in 2020, the three minor parties were keen on getting the ruling party’s help to change an electoral system that they argue systematically favors the two largest parties.

The biggest obstacle to a deal, however, was the center-right BP, whose members were divided over whether to accept the DP’s compromise. After weeks of negotiations, the BP was ultimately able to narrow the new agency’s indictment powers to only top law enforcement officials. While analysts have expressed surprise at the four parties’ ability to reach a compromise in time so the changes can be applied in next year’s elections, the agreement still requires ratification by the committees of each party. The BP’s heavy internal divisions over the issue could lead to it rejecting the proposal.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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