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[Opinion] Neutrality of National Assembly Speaker

Posted May. 23, 2008 03:48,   


Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo met with National Assembly Speaker Lim Chae-jung to press for presenting the ratification motion of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement on his authority as speaker. On his way out of the meeting, a reporter asked Ahn, “(If you become the speaker) and your opinion is different from your party’s line, what would you do?” For a short moment, Ahn appeared to be taken aback. That is because he officially declared his candidacy for the speaker of the 18th National Assembly shortly before the meeting.

It was a sorry moment. The National Assembly Law bans the speaker from being affiliated with a particular political party. The provision was added in 2002 under former Speaker Lee Man-seop for a bipartisan and neutral running of the parliament. The reporter mentioned “if your opinion is different from your party’s line,” although he is fully aware of the aforementioned provision because he assumed that Ahn would follow the party’s line anyway. Ahn responded to the question by making an equivocal remark: “I will return to that after I’m elected.” Maybe he did so because he was not fully confident of his “neutrality.”

Presenting a bill on the speaker’s authority carries a very strong negative connotation to the extent that it sounds like “railroading the bill.” In the past, ruling parties often took advantage of the authority of the speaker to present a bill to the National Assembly and railroaded it with the “power of majority.” National Assembly speaker sometimes announced that the bill was passed in the middle of the aisle, rather than in his seat, with the protection of ruling party lawmakers, or even in the press room. Hence, in 2002 again, a very unusual provision was added to the National Assembly Law: “The speaker shall announce the outcome of votes in the speaker’s seat.”

Lim said to heads of five business organizations visiting the National Assembly yesterday, “If I present the FTA ratification motion to the National Assembly on my authority, the parliament spirit of discussion and agreement will disappear.” However, he is not in the position of making such remarks. He effectively encouraged Vice Speaker Lee Yong-hee to present the bill on the special investigation of BBK by letting Lee preside the session. He wielded the authority of the parliament to dig up the opposition party candidate’s wrongdoing, which amounts to a “coup by parliament.” And now Lim said, “The BBK case was a domestic issue. The FTA is a totally different issue.” That is a very convenient excuse. The truth is that a political issue like the BBK scandal requires agreement and discussion among political parties, and a national interest issue like the FTA requires a wise decision by the speaker.

Editorial Writer Kim Chang-hyeok (chang@donga.com)