The ruling Minjoo Party of Korea’s floor leader Yoon Ho-joong and his People Power Party (PPP) counterpart Kim Gi-hyeon mutually agreed on Friday to select heads of the National Assembly Standing Committee of each discipline according to the number of seats taken by negotiation bodies and give the head position of the legislative and judiciary standing committee to a PPP lawmaker, whose term will start off next June with the opening of the second half of the 21st National Assembly. The ruling party stays in control of the committee in the interim by then. The floor leaders of both the ruling party and the main opposition got aligned to revise the National Assembly Act in a way that allows the legislative and judiciary committee to stay on the duty within the framework and to the extent that does not take advantage of deliberation for the self-help’s sake. They plan to select standing committee heads and pass a revision bill on the National Assembly Act in a plenary session scheduled on Aug. 25.
Since the beginning of the 21st National Assembly, the ruling party has adhered to the position of the chairman of the legislative and judiciary committee, which plays a key role in the legislation process, causing discord and trouble in organizing the legislative body. The post of the legislative and judiciary committee chairman had been held by the opposition party since 2004 when the 17th National Assembly opened, based on the political agreement that it can serve as the minimum apparatus to keep tabs on the ruling party. Likewise, the Minjoo Party of Korea controlled the legislative and judiciary standing committee when it was the opposition party in the National Assembly. However, once it acquired as many as 180 seats following the results of last year’s April 15 national elections, it changed abruptly to sweep all the 18 standing committees with no exception.
With the opposition kept at bay, the ruling party has run amok to pass bills in its favor. While the deliberation process stated out in the National Assembly Act has been completely ignored, legislations have been proposed, discussed and passed exclusively by the ruling party’s lawmakers. As a result, a poorly handled legislation system has only put South Korean citizens at a disadvantage – for example, the revision to the Housing Lease Protection Act, which sparked critical real estate issues with jeonse supply shortages and rising housing prices, and the three anti-business regulatory acts that discourage businesses from increasing investment. Such an uncontrollable level of dogmatism at the heart of the ruling party was harshly criticized and judged by voters in the April 7 by-elections.
The ruling party and the opposition only decided to give the chairman post of the legislative and judiciary standing committee to the PPP in the second half of the 21st National Assembly, leaving specific allocation standards still not yet clarified. It has not been decided if the ruling and the opposition parties take control of the committee in question in turn with a two-year term, each; or whether the same rule still applies even if their positions change after the next presidential election. With an incomplete agreement made, they have not removed a seed for conflict completely. Given that the legislative and judiciary committee is responsible for keeping the ruling party in check, they need to make it clear that it has to be ruled by the opposition party.
As they have brought the organization of the legislative body back to normal, albeit belatedly, it should turn into an opportunity to promote parliamentary democracy where those on both edges of the political spectrum put their heads together for legislative deliberation. In this sense, politically contentious bills should never be passed unilaterally and collectively by the ruling party before the key position of the legislative and judiciary committee is transferred to the opposition, as argued by some ruling party members. Before control transfer happens, the ruling party should first promise not to take unilateral approach to the legislative process.