Big parties still at odds on prosecution reform bill
National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug proposed a compromise on a controversial bill that would strip the prosecution of its investigative powers last Friday, initially agreed to by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and People's Power Party (PPP) floor leaders. The two sides agreed to reduce the prosecution's investigative rights from six major crime types to two – corruption and economic crimes – before eventually removing such powers completely.
Over the weekend, that deal faced skepticism from within the PPP, whose members urged a renegotiation. The DP insists on sticking to Friday's agreement and passing the bill in the National Assembly this month, all by itself if it has to.
DP floor leader Park Hong-keun and Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, the PPP floor leader, held a 70-minute meeting arranged by Speaker Park Tuesday morning to discuss the deal, with little progress.
Floor Leader Park told reporters after the meeting, "It's only been four days since we signed off on the speaker's proposal, and I find it very regrettable to be in this kind of situation again."
He said that "no further agreements were made today," and stressed the need to stick with the current deal.
Kweon told reporters that he "explained the circumstances" in which the PPP members requested changes to the deal.
The DP has pushed amendments to the Prosecutors' Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act as a part of efforts to strip the state prosecution service of its investigative powers, which critics say have been abused to conduct probes of political rivals or enemies of the ruling party.
Under the compromise, the state prosecution service's investigative powers would be abolished after the establishment of a major criminal investigative agency like the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other investigative agencies improving their capabilities to a "certain level."
Park Byeong-seug's proposal Friday was seen as a step toward diffusing weeks of tensions over the issue and a step towards parliamentary cooperation. The two sides agreed to vote on the bills in a plenary session of the National Assembly this month.
Despite what appeared to be an amicable bipartisan agreement, PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok said Sunday that a "reconsideration" of the compromise on the prosecution reform bill was needed.
Lee said Monday that the PPP's supreme council in a meeting agreed that further discussions were needed on the deal especially regarding "illegalities committed during public elections and crimes by public officials."
Rep. Kweon said that the party was reflecting public concern that politicians "colluded" ahead of June 1 local elections to evade investigations.
In turn, DP Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chair of the DP's emergency committee, said Monday that his party will ram through the prosecution reform bill if the PPP breaks its agreement.
DP Rep. Park said Tuesday that the National Assembly's Legislation and Judiciary Committee was set to complete its review of the bill that day.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has indicated concerns over the bill and called for "political circles to reflect deeply on the right answer when it comes to defending constitutional values and protecting the people's lives," according to Bae Hyun-jin, his spokesperson, Monday.
Bae added that the DP should be "well aware of the deep concerns held by the majority of the people," adding that "politics cannot win against the people," and that the ruling party should not push forward such legislature amid such public concern.
In a press briefing Tuesday, Bae clarified that Yoon has been kept informed about the parliamentary circumstances surrounding prosecutorial reform "but did not intervene."
In a press conference Monday, President Moon Jae-in was supportive of Speaker Park's compromise, saying that it "went well."
In an exclusive interview with broadcaster JTBC aired Monday evening, Moon described Yoon's Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon's recent remarks criticizing the prosecution reform bill as being "inappropriate" and "dangerous."
Han, a senior prosecutor and Yoon's ally, on April 13 said that the DP's prosecutorial reform bill "must definitely be blocked," saying "the people will suffer greatly" from such legislature. He has also expressed concerns over the compromise deal.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]