Contentious bills put on the fast-track

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Contentious bills put on the fast-track

Contentious bills on electoral reform and the establishment of an independent investigation agency were fast tracked at the National Assembly late Monday evening by two special parliamentary committees.

After a week of bitter partisan fighting that at times turned into physical melees, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) mustered together its three allied parties to push through the bills at two special parliamentary committees on political and judicial reform at around 11 p.m. in spite of vocal opposition by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP)

In the process, the heads of both committees had to exercise their rights to send bodyguards into the meetings to regain order after LKP lawmakers tried again to physically obstruct votes from taking place.

The bills in question relate to one on electoral reform, which proposes to adjust the number of single member districts and proportional representation seats in the legislature, which has been packaged with three bills on judicial reform, the most prominent being the proposal to create a new agency specifically tasked to investigate corruption by high ranking civil servants.

The endorsements by the two special committees on Tuesday ensure the bills will reach the floor for a general vote without being obstructed by opposing lawmakers after a maximum of 330 days in review by relevant parliamentary bodies.

Yet given the highly sensitive nature of the bills, analysts say they are far from guaranteed to pass with a legislative majority if there are changes to the political calculus of any of the four parties or its members in the run up to the next parliamentary elections in April 2020.

The bill on electoral reform, for example, necessitates that many rural districts with dwindling populations would be cut to make way for more party list seats, which could invite opposition from lawmakers in the DP or its ally the Party for Democracy and Peace, which is almost entirely made up of lawmakers occupying such rural seats in the Jeolla region.

The last minute compromise made by the DP and its ally, the Bareunmimrae Party (BP) on the agency bill could also be prone to debate among the allied parties going forward, since the BP’s new proposal on the agency seeks to put even more checks on the agency that could arguably hinder its ability to function as intended. The BP proposal also gives the right to appoint prosecutors within the new agency to the head of the unit, rather than the president as per the original bill, something which several DP lawmakers have protested.

The LKP is also expected to fight the bills along the way before they are put to a vote. While their minority in the legislature is unlikely to affect the bills’ eventual passage, the party may try to obstruct the bills as long as possible in committees so that it takes all 330 days to reach a vote on the floor.

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