The 21st session of the National Assembly had an opening ceremony Thursday, 48 days after the session had begun. Since the constitutional amendment in 1987, this marks the most laggard start in Korea’s parliamentary history. After the ruling Democratic Party of Korea swept 176 seats in the April 15 general elections, the opening ceremony has been delayed with lawmakers bickering over the party’s attempt to hog committee chair positions.
In the Thursday speech, President Moon Jae-in said the biggest failure of the 20th session consisted in the failure of coordinated politics, stressing that lawmakers must rise above confrontations and animosities to usher in a new era of governance. However, President Moon must not forget the fact that the primary reason for such failure stemmed from the ruling party. Last year, the Democratic Party of Korea built a “4+1” consultation body across the ruling camps to ram the bills on public officials election and corruption investigation office for high-ranking officials (CIO). They take issues with the main opposition party’s intransigence, but it was the ruling party’s rash attempt to railroad the bills with a numbers advantage that caused such impediment for the National Assembly.
The ruling party’s dogmatic attitude remains uninhibited even after the April 15 general elections. On May 27, President Moon stressed the importance of bipartisan cooperation, the Democratic Party of Korea continued to turn a blind eye to the opposition parties. They selected the chair and vice-chairs of the assembly on their own, hogged the heads of standing committees, and unilaterally passed the supplementary budget plan. They even took the Legislation and Judiciary Committee whose chair has tacitly been reserved for minor oppositions. The long-standing practice that has been in place since democratization of South Korea was broken simply because the ruling party outweighs oppositions in the number of seats.
Mr. Moon urged to make progress on recommending the head of the CIO and finishing the personnel hearings within this session. However, the Act on CIO is inciting a number of controversies including constitutionality and separation of powers. The urgency of the reform to rein in the prosecution’s authority must not be an excuse for a shoddily made law, giving birth to another intractable inspection agency. The leaders of both parties must work together to come up with a solution to minimize adverse side-effects.
In a myopic perspective, pressing ahead with bills on the strength of a sheer numbers advantage in parliamentary seats may seem to boost the speed and efficiency, but it will eventually turn the National Assembly into a rubber stamp, and should it come to that, everyone will lose out.