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Rival parties agree to normalize parliament following 3 months of impasse

Rival parties agreed Monday to normalize the operation of the National Assembly following nearly three months of parliamentary impasse over a push to place key reform bills on a fast-track.

The move is expected to pave the way for reviewing a 6.7 trillion-won ($5.6 billion) extra budget bill and other legislation on people's livelihoods that have been pending for months amid deepened partisan tensions.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP), the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BP) reached a last-minute deal to set detailed schedules for an extra session in June and put the idle parliament back on track.


They decided to kick off the review of the supplementary budget bill and pass it during the June session. The parties will put priority on reviewing the budget allocated for disaster controls.

Partisan tensions started after the DP and three minor parties placed key political and judicial reform bills on a fast-track in late April, despite strong objections from the LKP.

The contentious bills included an election reform bill, a proposal to set up a special unit to probe high-ranking public officials and a measure to adjust the investigative power between the prosecution and the police.

"As for the bills designated as fast-track ones, the parties will comprehensively discuss each party's proposals and handle them in accordance with the spirit of agreement," the three parties said in a joint statement.

The breakthrough came amid mounting criticism that the National Assembly is embroiled in political strife while neglecting its legislative role.

The DP and the three minor parties -- the BP, the liberal Party for Democracy and Peace and the leftist Justice Party -- made a joint request to hold the June session last week as the impasse was drawn out.

The June session kicked off Thursday, but without the participation of the LKP, the assembly could not fully resume operation.

The LKP had recently demanded the parliament hold hearings on economic issues, claiming it wants to zero in on the failure of the government's economic policy before it starts to review the extra budget bill. The DP rejected the LKP's demand as "rude."

Instead of the format of hearings, the rival parties agreed to accept the holding of roundtable discussions on the economy, to be hosted by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang. Details will be set by the parties' negotiations.

For the budget bill review, heated debate is expected as the conservative LKP claims the extra budget is designed to create jobs to win over voters ahead of next April's parliamentary elections.

The National Assembly will hold its first plenary session in nearly three months later in the day.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon will deliver a budget speech to stress the need for the quick passage of the supplementary budget as the Korean economy needs a boost in the face of heightened uncertainty at home and abroad. (Yonhap)