Fixing legislature branch
Bill to advance National Assembly is first step
Korea’s parliament has periodically provided global media outlets with photos demonstrating their energetic ― too energetic, perhaps ― legislative activities.
In this country, few bills of importance pass without producing some ugly melees. Shoving matches are common and fistfights not rare with some mobilizing sledgehammers and electric saws to open locked doors, and a tear gas canister has even been detonated in front of the Speaker. Few refuted when a foreign magazine selected the National Assembly as one of the world’s five most ``lawless” legislatures.
It is more than welcome, if belated, in this regard that the Steering Committee passed a bill to advance the National Assembly’s operations, or ``physical fight prevention bill,” in a bipartisan agreement Tuesday.
The eventual legislation of the much delayed bill next week in the final sitting of the 18th parliament, which has the stigma of the most violent and unproductive Assembly, should be its last present to the just-elected successor. Major content of the bill, which seem to borrow from the U.S. Congress’s playbook, promise some hopes.
While the revival of the filibuster and reduction of the speaker’s prerogatives are aimed at thwarting the tyranny of the majority, the introduction of the discharge petition and fast track systems is designed to preclude obstructionism of the minority. Such a balance is desirable, at least in theory, because we don’t think it right for a party with just 10 percent of the seats to behave as if it has 50 percent, not any more than a party with 51-percent of the seats trying to ignore the other 49 percent.
Would the proposed law stop the vicious circle of the majority party’s ramming through the bills and minority’s physical blocking of them?
Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t seem very positive, especially given the light penalties on its violators. The proposed cuts of allowances or three-month suspensions of attendance are just slaps on the wrist. Proposers of the bill should implement it to enable the Ethics Committee to file complaints and indict those who disobey. At least a six-month suspension of lawmaker status is necessary to change the attitude of offender, especially habitual ones. Political parties should also allow cross voting instead of forcing lawmakers to always vote by the party lines.
As always, however, no improvement is possible by introducing just new systems unless they are accompanied by changes in the behavior and consciousness of those involved. The restoration of indefinite speech as a delaying tactic or setting deadlines on submitting bills can result in a ``vegetative parliament” that cannot pass even a minor bill, and worsen partisan confrontation, respectively, if there are no culture of dialogue and compromise. Such concerns are all the more valid amid the increasingly polarizing political landscape here, as shown by the election of only three independent candidates last week, compared with 15 four years ago.
All these potential side effects notwithstanding, major parties should pass the bill next Tuesday, and supplement it later.
Voters are no less responsible for making it a success by being more prudent in exercising their quadrennial rights. Kim Sun-dong, who detonated a tear gas canister in the middle of the Assembly hall, was reelected. Like a tango, democracy takes two to succeed ― people and their representatives.