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As S. Korea celebrates Constitution Day, National Assembly remains log-jammed

Speaker urges parties to promptly strike deal on new committee chairs

National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo delivers an adress at a ceremony for this year‘s Constitution Day at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sunday. (Joint Press Corps)
National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo delivers an adress at a ceremony for this year‘s Constitution Day at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Sunday. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s rival parties remain in deadlock over naming new committee chairs of the National Assembly, having the country celebrate this year’s Constitution Day without fully assembled legislative leadership.

National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo asked the parties to promptly work towards negotiating on forming the new legislative leadership then discuss possible legislative fixes to ensure the legislative branch is always at work to respond to the people’s troubles at any political situation.

“The National Assembly stayed completely stalled with nobody serving as the speaker until very recently, and we have not even finished forming the new legislative leadership just yet,” Kim said in an address for an event held to celebrate the country’s 74th Constitution Day.

“The door to the National Assembly must be open at all times. We need to swiftly form the new leadership and bring changes to the law and regulations so that this situation is never repeated in the future.”

The ruling People Power Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Korea have failed to strike a deal on which party to chair which legislative committees for the latter half of the 21st National Assembly since the terms for the previous chairs ended late May.

The parties failed to meet its self-imposed deadline returning to work in the Assembly by Constitution Day, mainly because of fighting over which party should chair the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee as well as Public Administration and Security Committee.

The People Power Party on Thursday offered to let the Democratic Party chair either one of the two committees and take whichever committee is left. But the Democratic Party refused the offer, arguing it must chair both committees to ensure proper checks and balances against the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.

The party said it has already yielded to let the People Power Party chair the Legislation and Judiciary Committee for the ongoing negotiations. It added the liberal party must take the two committees in question to assure freedom of the press and independence of state agencies.

The ruling party said the system in place already favors the Democratic Party, and that the new ruling bloc must assume control of the two committees to achieve balance.

Kim oversaw four straight days of negotiations until late Saturday night, but talks ended without any further progress.

The two parties have so far agreed to let the People Power Party control the judiciary committee while the ruling bloc participates in a special committee for prosecution reform as proposed by the Democratic Party.

The special committee will have six legislators each from the ruling and main opposition parties and be chaired by the Democratic Party. It will be tasked with coming up with legislative proposals to fully execute the prosecution reform pushed by the Moon Jae-in administration.

Observers see the ruling party as having decided to take part in the committee due to its belief that President Yoon -- a former prosecutor -- would veto any bill that would take away more power from the prosecution.

The legislative branch has failed to conduct confirmation hearings for some of Yoon’s Cabinet picks and make progress on more than 10,000 bills submitted for review since the first half of the 21st National Assembly came to an end in late May.

Past records show that, while both parties are focused on finalizing them soon, the negotiations could go on much longer than suggested.

For the latter half of the 14th National Assembly, the main parties took 125 days to elect a new speaker and committee chairs. It took 57 days to name new committee chairs for the latter half of the previous 20th National Assembly in 2018.

The latest delay took place after the Democratic Party refused to uphold the bipartisan compromise it reached with the People Power Party in July last year.

Under the arbitration of the National Assembly speaker at the time, People Power Party Rep. Chun Jin-suk, the floor leaders of both parties agreed to give 11 committee chair positions to the Democratic Party and the remaining seven to the People Power Party, based on the number of seats each party held in the legislature.

The promise included the Democratic Party handing over the chair post for the Legislation and Judiciary Committee in July, when the latter half of the 21st Assembly starts for new chairs and the speaker is to be appointed.

But the Democratic Party refused to comply with last year’s deal when the time came to appoint new chairs for the second half of the 21st National Assembly. It argued a new deal must be reached to reflect the People Power Party’s new position as the ruling party.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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