The National Assembly ratified the Korea-EU free trade agreement on Wednesday night, in a vote boycotted by the main opposition Democratic Party.
“We decided not to attend the plenary session and go home,” said DP floor leader Park Jie-won after a series of meetings of its lawmakers held just before the session opened. “The decision was taken to express our opposition to the votebeing held today.”
|Opposition lawmakers and security guards scuffle near the seat of Speaker Park Hee-tae, before he opened the plenary session for the vote on the Korea-EU free trade agreement in the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)|
The National Assembly began a plenary session at 10:03 p.m. to put the accord to the vote. Speaker Park Hee-tae entered the hall at 9:55 p.m., and asked opposition lawmakers of the Democratic Liberal Party and the New Progressive Party to vacate his seat, which they had occupied to block proceedings.
Seven opposition lawmakers had a scuffle with security guards who were called in to secure the seat before the session opened.
Earlier, about 150 lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party and several lawmakers of the Future Hope Alliance had entered the hall around 9:18, and approved the bill.
The Grand National Party holds the majority in the 299-seat parliament. The Democratic Party and the minor Democratic Labor Party called for a delay in its passage. Opponents claimed that the government has not set up safeguards to protect local industries and farmers who may be hurt by market liberalization.
The pact had been stalled in the National Assembly since it was signed in October last year, while the European Parliament passed it in February.
In an hours-long party meeting in the afternoon, a majority of the main opposition party lawmakers voted against passing the bill.
Park suggested to his GNP counterpart Kim Moo-sung that the issue undergo further discussions in the upcoming extra sessions, under new floor leaders.
The GNP decided to vote on the bill, without the consent of opposition parties. As a result, the agreement will take effect in July.
“The bill is to be passed by all means today,” said Kim Moo-sung. “We have acceded to 90 percent of the DP’s demands in order to reach our compromise, but the DP still is unwilling to accept it.”
The DP reached a hard-earned agreement earlier Monday with the GNP and government officials to pass the long-delayed FTA ratification bill on Wednesday.
The bill involves stepping up the measures to protect local businesses from the effects of the FTA, such as banning large supermarkets within a 1 kilometer radius of small traditional markets.
The compromise, however, met fierce resistance from other opposition parties and from within the DP as well.
Three minority parties held a joint demonstration Wednesday morning, denouncing the DP’s moves.
“The DP is not entitled to single-handedly represent the entire opposition camp, without even collecting their opinion,” said the parties in a joint statement.
They also claimed that the DP’s rushed agreement on the FTA bill may destroy the solidarity in the opposition camp.
“Once the bill is passed, there shall be no turning back and a renegotiation will be impossible,” said Park Sun-young of the conservative minority Liberty Forward Party.
“It is deplorable that the DP should uphold an agreement which may threaten the lives of some 6 million merchants and 3.5 million farmers and fishers.”
Lee Jung-hee, leader of the liberal minority Democratic Labor Party, criticized the contents of the bill, saying that the ban on large supermarkets will do little to protect the local merchants once the FTA goes into effect.
Also, in the DP’s Supreme Council meeting held in the morning, seven out of its nine members spoke against passing the bill.
By Bae Hyun-jung (email@example.com)