Rep. Chung's arrest motion rejected
Saenuri faces criticism for protecting one of their own; Park Geun-hye skips vote
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Rep. Chung Doo-un of the ruling Saenuri Party survived a parliamentary motion Wednesday to have him arrested on charges of receiving money from the head of a troubled savings bank together with President Lee Myung-baks elder brother, Lee Sang-deuk.
Rep. Park Geun-hye, seen as an almost shoo-in as the party’s standard bearer for the Dec. 19 election, abstained, facing criticism for not being decisive enough, while the party leadership, filled by Park’s loyalists, offered to resign.
The motion was rejected as out of 271 lawmakers present, 74 cast ayes and 156 nays, 10 votes were declared invalid, and there were 31 abstentions.
Chung, a close aide of President Lee, was cited as an accomplice to the elder Lee in an arrest warrant issued to prosecutors, which stated that the two were together just before the presidential election in 2007 when they received 300 million won from the bank head, and Chung put the money inside the trunk of his car.
In a separate vote, the lawmakers passed a motion to allow prosecutors to arrest Park Joo-sun, an independent lawmaker who used to belong to the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP). Park received a two-year jail term for an Electoral Law violation and is now appealing. A total of 148 lawmakers voted in favor of the motion.
The prosecution will arrest and put Park behind bars as he received a 2-year jail term from a district court for violation of the Election Law, while they investigate him further.
Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, the floor leader of the ruling party, and officials responsible for parliamentary affairs tendered their resignations to take responsibility for the failure to oust Chung.
Their resignations, however, are unlikely to end the controversy as opposition parties condemned the Saenuri Party for protecting its lawmaker from the arrest.
The vote is poised to damage frontrunner presidential contender Park Geun-hye as the ruling party decided to maintain a no-mercy stance toward lawmakers involved in corruption when she led the party. She has been credited as principled politician. But the Assembly veto will likely undermine her image to a great extent.
The results are likely to deal a blow to the ruling Saenuri Party’s leadership as it linked the vote to efforts to remove lawmakers’ perks in an attempt to woo support ahead of the presidential election.
Lawmakers have faced mounting calls to cut their privileges after repeated abuses of them angered the public.
The ruling party and the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) called on their members to vote for the arrests as their leaderships were wary of negative fallout for the presidential election if they failed to approve them.
Under the current law, legislators are immune from criminal prosecution or arrest while a parliamentary session is open.
A backlash against such privileges erupted after the National Assembly became a symbol of incompetence, violence and loose ethics in the wake of a series of melees and chaos over divisive issues, including the free trade agreement with the United States.
Prior to the vote, the Saenuri Party held a meeting of all its lawmakers on the issue.
In a speech, Lee called on his fellow legislators to approve ousting the two.
“It’s natural that as fellow lawmakers we would have sympathy for Rep. Chung as he is in trouble. But I believe we need to keep in mind that all people are equal under the law and put this ahead of our sympathy toward our fellow lawmaker,” Lee said.
He said the vote would indicate whether the National Assembly has chosen a path for change or remains an entity representing the vested interest of lawmakers.
Chairman Hwang Woo-yea also appealed to his fellow ruling party lawmakers to join together to vote for the measure, saying it could be a litmus test for the Saenuri Party’s reform drive.
Meanwhile, DUP members were given a free vote.
The motion calling for the National Assembly to agree on the arrest of sitting lawmakers for investigation has been submitted 45 times before. Only nine cases were previously approved, making Wednesday’s decision a rare one.