Pushing against the tide

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Pushing against the tide

 The steering committee of the Seoul Metropolitan Council endorsed a revised act on restricting comments of the mayor and education superintendents. The committee was to motion the bill at the plenary session on Wednesday but the plan was put off after controversy arose. The revised act disallows the mayor from speaking without the consent of the council head or committee head. The council can kick out the mayor upon incompliance. To return to the council meeting, the mayor would have to apologize to the chairperson or the committee heads.

Kim Choung-tae, chairman of the steering committee and member of the ruling Democratic Party, (DP), explained that the motion was proposed to ensure respect to the council.

But no democratic states restrict the speech of an elected public official. The move infringes on the core of democracy values. It also goes against the Local Autonomous Act that authorizes the power of local government heads. Under the act, local government heads can express their opinions and answer questions at local councils and at their committees.

A higher National Assembly Act has provisions enabling the speaker or committee heads to restrict comments. But the restriction only applies to lawmakers who disrupt order in the assembly or obstruct others from speaking.

The move could also be violating the Constitution as Article 21 on the freedom of expression aims to protect the voices of the minority and keep majority abuse in check. The DP dominating 99 out of 110 seats in the Seoul city council is out to muffle the voice of a mayor from the opposition People Power Party (PPP). The provision demanding an apology also goes against the Constitutional article on freedom of conscience. If the mayor has to apologize regardless of self will, it would be more or less a lie.

The Seoul city council often resorted to majority force to hamper reforms. It clashed with former mayor Park Won-soon over his wasteful private consignment projects and restored assistance to civilian organizations and TBS from cuts in the budgetary proposal from the Seoul city government. As a result, the Seoul budget bill for next year has not made the plenary session agenda yet.

Using elected power for partisan purpose and ideology instead of civil rights and welfare cannot be congruous to democratic values. The DP must not forget that voters have chosen an opposition candidate in the by-election in April. The city council must scrap the plan that impairs democratic values.
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