Parties agree on electoral reforms, new agency

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Parties agree on electoral reforms, new agency

The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BP) on Tuesday approved a multiparty agreement made with the ruling Democratic Party (DP) a day earlier to fast-track bills on electoral reform and establishing an independent agency that will focus on crimes committed by high-ranking officials.

The agreement, reached Monday after months of wrangling between the BP, DP and two other minor opposition parties, the Justice Party and the Party for Democracy and Peace, was ratified at meetings of each of the four parties’ lawmakers.

The BP was regarded as the last holdout on the bills since a conservative wing of the party strongly opposed a deal that would give the new agency too much authority.

A simple majority vote among BP lawmakers in favor of the agreement eventually concluded a fierce internal debate during a meeting on Tuesday, but also widened the divide between the party’s factions.

This alignment among the four parties 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. It leaves the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) the sole source of resistance.

The election bill proposes to increase the number of proportional representation seats in the National Assembly from the current 47 to 75, while reducing the number of single member district representatives from 253 to 225. It also adjusts the electoral formula by which proportional representative seats are distributed, accounting to each party’s share of the popular vote.

The more controversial of the two bills would create the investigative unit, which would have the power to launch probes, seek arrest warrants and indict corrupt prosecutors, judges and top police officers. As one of President Moon Jae-in’s core election promises, such an agency had long been proposed to end a culture of power abuse among the country’s political elite, though critics had argued it could be used to supersede the rule of law.

Putting these bills on the fast track ensures they will reach the floor for a general vote without being obstructed by opposing lawmakers, pending three-fifths approval from two special parliamentary committees reviewing political and electoral reforms. There is still a possibility that the bills could be blocked, given that two BP lawmakers on one of the committees reportedly oppose empowering the investigative unit.

A bigger threat to the bills’ passage, however, is posed by the LKP, which, following the four-party agreement on Monday, announced it would fight tooth and nail to shoot down the two bills.

The party’s floor leader, Rep. Na Kyung-won claimed the “death knell of parliamentary democracy” was sounded with the agreement, and that her party would now undertake “emergency measures” to stop the bills from going through the National Assembly. As it threatened earlier, when the other four parties were in negotiations over the fast-track process, the LKP may end up boycotting proceedings in the legislature indefinitely until the next parliamentary elections in 2020.

The LKP’s proposed boycott could take the form of public demonstrations, like one it undertook in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul last weekend, given the words of the party’s chairman, Hwang Kyo-ahn, who said he would take to the streets if necessary to “show the people the truth about the dictatorship of the Moon Jae-in administration.”

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