The Democratic Party has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the bill to strip prosecutors of their investigative powers can go through, despite escalating conflicts with the prosecution and opposition parties.
Rep. Min Hyung-bae on Wednesday left the Democratic Party and became an independent, a move that would allow the party to push the controversial bill through referral to the agenda coordination committee.
Min is a member of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, which handles amendments to the Prosecutor’s Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act, to abolish the prosecution’s investigation function. He plans to join the agenda coordination committee soon.
The agenda coordination committee consists of six members, including three from the Democratic Party, two from the People Power Party and one independent lawmaker. If four of the votes are in favor, the bill can be passed.
Previously, the Democratic Party tried to form an agenda coordination committee in a 4:2 structure of the ruling and opposition parties by filling the seat with independent lawmaker Yang Hyang-ja. But with Yang opposing the bill, the ruling party sought to replace Yang with Min, making him an independent.
The People Power Party lashed out at the ruling party’s move, calling it “tyranny.” Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, during an emergency press conference, criticized it as “a trick to neutralize the agenda coordination committee.”
Oh Young-hwan, floor spokesperson for the Democratic Party, said it was Rep. Min’s “personal decision.”
The Democratic Party aims to announce the bill at the Moon Jae-in government’s last Cabinet meeting on May 3. National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug has postponed his overseas trip to the US and Canada due to escalating tensions over the bill.
Tensions are running high as the prosecution and opposition parties continue to stand up against the ruling party’s push for the controversial bill.
From 7 p.m. on Tuesday to 5:10 a.m. Wednesday, 207 public prosecutors across the country held an all-night meeting over the issue. It was the first time in 19 years that such a gathering took place. It followed a series of meetings between high-ranking prosecutors a day earlier. Around 50 senior prosecutors were scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the first time in objection of the bill.
After their 10-hour meeting, the public prosecutors released a statement on Wednesday morning, calling the ruling party’s push a “criminal negligence law.”
The bill makes it “difficult to protect people from most crimes related to public welfare and large-scale finance, such as sexual violence, violent crimes and voice phishing that people can encounter in their daily lives,” the public prosecutors’ statement read.
“The bill makes it impossible for prosecutors to verify even basic facts, producing unfair victims. It also eliminates remedial procedures, even if victims raise an objection to be judged by prosecutors,” it added.
The statement also said that the bill arbitrarily interprets the Constitution, depriving prosecutors of the right to investigate and directly request warrants. The bill also recognizes the police’s right to request direct warrants, which it claims is a violation of the Constitution.
Amid escalating conflicts between the opposition and ruling parties over the controversial bill, a subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, which began a review of the bill, was disrupted after a war of nerves on Tuesday night.
The subcommittee, which had begun its meeting earlier in the day and reconvened at 8:30 p.m., adjourned in about an hour and 10 minutes due to a quarrel between Rep. Choi Kang-wook of the Democratic Party and Rep. Jeon Ju-hye of the People Power Party. It failed to resume.
In a briefing after the meeting, Rep. Yoo Sang-beom of the People Power Party said that Choi disparaged the committee by using the word “that” to refer to Jeon, a woman and fellow senior lawmaker.
Yoo said his party has made it clear that they would not attend the next day’s meeting unless Choi publicly apologizes.
In response, Choi said, “It seems like a type of delay strategy (of the People Power Party). (Jeon) repeated the same story and questions for 20 to 30 minutes.”
Amid the worsening conflict, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has not expressed his position for several days.
On Tuesday, an official from Yoon’s side told reporters, “It is a matter of legislation discussed in the National Assembly. We are watching in respect of their legislative activities.”
Yoon has notably distanced himself from the controversy. Analysts said Yoon was trying to avoid playing into the Democratic Party’s framing of a “prosecution’s republic,” in which he defends his “home ground” of the prosecution. Yoon was the former prosecutor general under the incumbent Moon administration.
Yoon is also seen to be avoiding controversy over the issue by putting a focus on taking care of people’s livelihoods, such as compensation for COVID-19 losses and real estate measures.
When asked about the bill, Yoon’s spokesperson Bae Hyung-jin sidestepped the question, saying that the president-elect is “focusing on launching the next state administration” in a stable manner.
Earlier on April 8, Yoon told reporters, “It’s been a long time since I quit being a prosecutor. The criminal justice system needs to be discussed with the Justice Ministry and the prosecution,” adding, “I will only care about people’s livelihoods.”
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org