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Opposition leaders urge Yoon to stop using veto power

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : May 20, 2024 - 14:28

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (Presidential Office) President Yoon Suk Yeol (Presidential Office)

President Yoon Suk Yeol is facing calls from multiple opposition leaders to stop vetoing bills, as the fate of a bill mandating a special counsel to probe alleged state interference in an investigation into the death of a young Marine is to be determined later this week.

Yoon, who has just passed two years in office, has already used the presidential power to veto nine times, only the second-most of all South Korean presidents since President Syngman Rhee took office in 1948.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung said Monday at a party meeting in the National Assembly that Yoon "should not repeatedly use his power to veto a bill."

Lee added that the opposition-sponsored special probe bill "must be promulgated immediately," and that "the patience of the people must not be tested again."

He also criticized Yoon for his reported remarks in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers-elect from the ruling People Power Party that the presidential authority to veto bills is a negotiating asset when dealing with opposition parties, which hold the majority of seats in the 300-member parliament. The remarks not only triggered a standoff with the main opposition party but also signaled Yoon's failure to achieve social consensus, according to Lee.

Cho Kuk, another rival of Yoon who leads the minor opposition Rebuilding Korea Party, echoed Lee, urging Yoon not to reject the special probe bill this week and not to abuse the presidential power to veto.

Cho, also a lawmaker-elect, said in a briefing in front of the presidential office in Seoul that such veto power "should (only) be exercised in the event that a bill is seriously flawed in its legislative procedures and in the substance of the bill itself."

Cho added that it is "absurd" for Yoon to have said in a recent press conference that there's no need for a special probe since the police and Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials are investigating.

"Yoon exercising the presidential power to veto (a special counsel) would be far from justified given that the bill would look into the alleged involvement of the president himself (in interference into the probe)," Cho said.

Cho Kuk (third from left), a lawmaker-elect and chair of the Rebuilding Korea Party, speak at a press conference in front of the presidential office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Cho Kuk (third from left), a lawmaker-elect and chair of the Rebuilding Korea Party, speak at a press conference in front of the presidential office in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Later on Monday, a dozen members of various opposition parties, such as Rep. Park Chan-dae, floor leader of the Democratic Party; Rep. Hwang Un-ha, floor leader of the Rebuilding Korea Party; Rep. Yong Hye-in who leads the progressive Basic Income Party and Her Eun-a, a former lawmaker who has been elected the new chair of the new minor opposition New Reform Party, followed suit. They gathered near the presidential office and demanded Yoon approve the special probe bill.

The special probe bill was pushed to a vote by the Democratic Party and passed the National Assembly, while the People Power Party lawmakers walked out during the vote, May 2. The bill was passed over to the government on May 7. Yoon may opt either to sign the bill into law or veto the bill by Wednesday.

The Yoon administration is alleged to have interfered in the Marine Corps' independent probe into Marine Cpl. Chae Su-geun's death in July 2023 during a search and rescue operation in a stream flooded by torrential rainfall. Yoon's office was under fire for naming ex-Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup -- one of the key figures allegedly involved in the state's interference into the independent probe -- as the new ambassador to Australia, before last month's general election.

If the president vetoes the bill, it will be sent back to the National Assembly and put to vote again. The parliament needs two-thirds of the votes to override a presidential veto, which is unlikely because in the current assembly session, the ruling People Power Party has more than 100 lawmakers. The National Assembly's current 21st session will end in late May.

Yoon previously vetoed a bill to launch a special counsel probe into the tragic Itaewon crowd crush that killed 159 people, in January. Other bills vetoed by Yoon include opposition-led bills to initiate a special probe into first lady Kim Keon Hee. None of Yoon's nine vetoed bills met the 200-vote threshold in parliament needed to override a presidential veto.

The opposition has continued to maintain the majority in the National Assembly since Yoon started his term in May 2022. The ruling party's crushing defeat in the general election last month means he will have to continue to do so until his term ends in 2027.