New rule, new Assembly
System change alone cannot rectify old habits
It’s rather ironic the 18th National Assembly, which hasn’t won praise throughout its four-year term, finally received some in its final session. Voters can now let the 299 lawmakers go with lighter hearts murmuring to themselves, ``Good riddance.”
Demonstrating last-minute productivity, the lame-duck Assembly passed 59 bills related with public livelihood, enabling people to buy over-the-counter drugs at supermarkets, allowing maritime patrolmen to better crack down on illegal, weapon-wielding Chinese fishermen, and permitting police to track women in personal danger more quickly than before.
We feel relieved these representatives of the people awakened to their duties on the closing day. Drawing our attention more, however, was the other bill ― the revised National Assembly Act, or ``anti-scuffle law.”
What made the outgoing Assembly especially egregious was the total lack of parliamentary democracy amid the empirical presidency. During the last four years, the speakers of the legislature who represent the governing party directly introduced a total of 99 bills despite opposition from minority parties, compared with just six and 29 in the 16th and 17th Assembly, respectively.
The majority party bulldozed almost all of the controversial bills, including four budget proposals, into law, crushing the opposition’s physical blockade.
So it’s only natural the departing legislature came up with some measures of self-reflection marked by the introduction of the U.S.-style filibuster and fast-track devices. It remains to be seen how these American transplants take root in the considerably different political soil of Korea. In a worst-case scenario, the skeptics’ concerns about an extremely inefficient parliament ― the so-called ``vegetative Assembly” ― could become a reality.
These worries are not without grounds, as their originator, the U.S. Congress, has long been the butt of popular ridicule as a ``do-(almost)-nothing” legislature. It is also true the nation has only to adopt the merits of a foreign system without repeating the trials-and-errors of the front-runners. Yet attempts to unduly water down or defang the new system, even before its implementation, is maintaining the status quo or going back to the old days. It’s as if some of those on the right worry about excessive welfare for Koreans, even though Koreans have never experienced a Western-style welfare system.
We don’t want to regard it as reflecting partisan interests that most of the opposition came from the majority Saenuri Party and conservative media, as the parliamentary status can change in each election.
If it boils down to the choice between a violent parliament vs. an inefficient one ― or bestial vs. vegetative ― it would be fair to give the latter a chance.
True, the too frequent filibusters in the Republican-led U.S. Senate have rendered almost all government bills to rags, and President Barack Obama’s numerous nominees to important posts have yet to reach their desks. Still what many Korean voters would like to see is the all-day discussions that sometimes enter into the early hours at the Assembly even if it can lead to legislative gridlock instead of watching the all too frequent dictatorship of the majority and the desperate blockades.
If Korean parliamentarians learn a culture of dialogue and compromise someday, it will be through the former, not the latter. After all, what the nation needs more will not be lots of new laws but to live faithfully by the existing ones.