Next years national budget bill passed the National Assemblys plenary session Wednesday despite strong objection from opposition parties. The budget was reduced 495.1 billion won (433 million U.S. dollars) to 309.57 trillion won (270.6 billion dollars) from the original amount submitted by the government. The budget for the four-river restoration project was cut 270 billion won (236 million dollars). The national defense budget, including that for reinforcing defense on the five islands in the Yellow Sea, increased 141.9 billion won (124 million dollars) in the wake of the Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea. Under the government and ruling Grand National Partys plan to expand support for the livelihood of the working class and welfare expenditures, financial support for war veterans was raised to 84 billion won (73.4 million dollars), that for halls for the elderly to 21.8 billion won (19 million dollars), and that for university part-time lecturers to 9.7 billion won (8.5 million dollars). Along with the state budget, a bill to dispatch troops to the United Arab Emirates passed parliament, allowing the government to send special forces to the Mideast country next month.
A melee at the National Assembly broke out again, however. When the ruling party was set to railroad the bill through Tuesday, members of the main opposition Democratic Party prevented ruling party lawmakers from doing so. In the process, tempered class at the entrance of the Assemblys main hall was shattered and furniture was broken. At the parliamentary committee for land, transport and maritime affairs, ruling party lawmaker Hyun Ki-hwan had to be hospitalized after being hit in the head by a gavel thrown by a Democratic Party lawmaker. Physical brawls also broke out Wednesday between ruling and opposition party lawmakers, turning the Assembly into a lawless land.
As soon as the 18th National Assembly was launched, it was branded a violent parliament. In December 2008, Democratic Party lawmakers used hammers, chainsaws, water cannons and fire extinguishers to prevent Grand National Party lawmakers from passing a bill to ratify the free trade agreement with the U.S. at the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and trade. In July last year, ruling and opposition party lawmakers came to blows over media reform bills. The Dec. 2 deadline for the national budget set by the Constitution has not been met since 2002.
Though 62 years have passed since the National Assembly opened in 1948, democracy and the rule of law have yet to take root in parliament. A repeat of violence in parliament tarnishes the image of Korea as host of the G-20 summit. After suffering from extreme violence in 2008 and last year, laws on preventing violence and keeping order in parliament were enacted but have proven useless. In this sense, institutional measures need to be devised to root out violence in the National Assembly. For their part, voters should judge in the 2012 general elections those who committed violence in the Assembly and trampled on parliamentary democracy.