Leftist party ups pressure on 4 holdouts
9 lawmakers-elect give up seats
By Chung Hee-hyung
The leadership of the minor Unified Progressive Party (UPP) took its first official step Tuesday to expel four of the party’s lawmakers-elect who have staunchly refused to step down despite intense pressure both within and outside the party.
Time is running out for the UPP, however, because once the National Assembly opens with its newly elected members today it will be much more difficult to remove them from their seats.
Heavyweights Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yon and two minor players are accused of being selected for proportional candidate seats through voting fraud in last month’s party primary.
“The party’s Seoul branch discussed its Central Disciplinary Committee’s proposal to expel the lawmakers-elect,” said a spokeswoman of the UPP, Tuesday. The committee and the Seoul branch are dominated by reformists.
Referring the proposal to the Seoul office was yet another move to take whatever measures may be necessary to oust the troublesome lawmakers-elect.
Lee and Kim originally registered their membership at the party’s Seoul branch, which is predominantly composed of reformists. Increasing calls for their resignation, however, prompted them to move their registration to the Gyeonggi Province branch, which is mostly composed of a leftist faction.
Under the party rule, the regional branch where a member has registered his or her party membership has jurisdiction to review disciplinary measures against them.
The mainstream faction correctly saw the two lawmakers-elect move for what it was; finding a loophole and twisting the party rules to avoid getting kicked out at all costs. Refusing to acknowledge the switched registration and referring the proposal to the Seoul branch was a clear signal that the reformists had not fallen for the ruse.
The Seoul office is widely expected to confirm the proposal and eventually decide to expel the four. There are legal hurdles, however, to frustrate any attempt to remove the lawmakers-elect from their parliamentary seats.
The first pertains to timing. It will take at least a month to go through all the necessary steps before the Seoul office will be able to reach a decision on the expulsions. The second lies in statutes: For any political party considering expelling its own lawmakers, the Political Parties Act requires at least one half of the party’s fellow legislators to agree.
Even Rep. Kang Ki-kab, the chairman of UPP’s emergency council and the head of the reformist faction, admitted as much. “We may find ourselves unable to oust the lawmakers-elect,” said Kang in a radio interview Tuesday. “Nonetheless, we should wait and see what decision the disciplinary committee makes.”
For the UPP, however, there may not be much time to sit back and see how the situation might develop. It may be all but impossible to expel the lawmakers-elect once the National Assembly starts its session today. Once the session begins, they become full-term lawmakers.
As if the UPP’s internal struggle was not enough, the ruling Saenuri Party was quick to portray Lee and Kim as politicians putting their parliamentary seats above the public interest. It also accused them of being sympathetic to North Korea.
It even suggested to the opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) that the National Assembly call for an expulsion vote under the Constitution, which requires two thirds of lawmakers to vote for a successful expulsion.
The proposal is unlikely to be carried out. The DUP is adamant that it won’t consider such a move, which has been done only once in more than 60 years of South Korea’s history. Still, the ruling Saenuri Party has nothing to lose. It can always claim that the UPP _ and by implication its partner DUP _ are corrupt, scandal-ridden and even ideologically questionable.
The opposition DUP, on the other hand, may bitterly regret the alliance it made with UPP shortly before the April parliamentary election. It is in the unenviable position of choosing between ditching its minority partner or sticking to the increasingly troublesome alliance, thereby giving yet more political ammunition to the ruling party.