Opposition tries stalling prosecution bill with filibuster
Chaos descended on the National Assembly Wednesday afternoon as the Democratic Party (DP) tried railroading through a controversial bill that would strip the prosecution of its investigative powers.
To block the bill, the opposition People Power Party (PPP) immediately launched a filibuster after a plenary session of the assembly began at 5 p.m. PPP floor leader Rep. Kweon Seong-dong was the first speaker in the filibuster, and he called the legislation “an outcome of deceptive political engineering.”
Three other representatives speakers signed up to continue the filibuster: Rep. Kim Woong, Rep. Kim Hyung-dong and Rep. Yoo Sang-bum. Each rep is allowed four hours of speaking time.
The PPP also applied Wednesday for an injunction from the Constitutional Court to suspend the bill. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced that it too will apply for an injunction from the Constitutional Court.
National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug made the decision to convene the plenary session after meeting with DP floor leader Rep. Park Hong-keun and PPP floor leader Rep. Kweon Seong-dong at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
“Speaker Park called the floor leaders of both parties and asked about any change in position regarding the bill,” Kweon told reporters after the meeting. “Both parties replied that there was no change, so it would be no longer possible to make changes to the bill.”
Earlier Wednesday, the DP's Rep. Park Hong-keun said his party would pass the bill “without fail” after ramming the bill through the judiciary committee in the early morning hours.
The DP's bill would amend the Prosecutors’ Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act. DP lawmakers argue that the prosecution’s powers have been abused to conduct investigations of political rivals or enemies of the ruling party.
Last Friday, floor leaders of the DP and PPP reached a compromise on the bill in which prosecutors would temporarily keep investigating two types of major crimes, corruption and economic crimes. But the PPP ultimately distanced itself from the deal, with PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok saying Sunday that a “reconsideration” of the compromise was needed.
The bill introduced to the plenary session strips the prosecution of all investigative powers.
Rep. Kweon said the PPP backtracked on Friday's compromise due to the public perception that politicians had “colluded” ahead of June 1 local elections to stop any future investigations of their own behavior by prosecutors.
In response, DP Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chair of the DP’s interim leadership, said Monday that the DP would ram through the bill without the PPP’s support.
As the plenary session and filibuster began, president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s chief of staff Chang Je-won said the president-elect’s aides will propose to Yoon a national referendum on the bills during the June 1 local elections. “In order to uphold the spirit of the Constitution based on the common sense of the people, the president-elect’s office is about to propose a national referendum to president-elect Yoon,” Chang told reporters.
“In terms of cost, it would not cost a lot to hold a referendum during the June 1 elections,” added Chang. “We will discuss this proposal in detail with the lawyers on the transition team.”
In response to Chang’s remarks, the National Election Commission said that such a referendum would be “impossible.”
Additionally, Korean Bar Association President Lee Jong-yop sent an open letter to Speaker Park Byeong-seug Wednesday, urging him to “take caution” in pushing the bill through the plenary session.
“Regarding the bill presented by the DP and passed through the judiciary committee last night, there are many criticisms from within and outside legal circles as to whether this is a genuinely effective prosecution reform,” Lee said. “Please think of what is the best for the people.”
BY LIM JEONG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]