Rival parties head for showdown

2013-11-28 20:17

The ruling Saenuri Party bulldozed through the disputed nomination of the Board of Audit and Inspection chief Thursday, thrusting the heightened political tension into a familiar yearend showdown as next year’s budget remains held hostage.

The confirmation of Hwang Chan-hyon as the new BAI head was approved by 154 of the 159 Saenuri Party and independent lawmakers that voted in the National Assembly’s plenary session in the afternoon. Three voted against and two were counted as invalid.

Crying foul, members of the main opposition Democratic Party walked out or watched in disdain as Assembly speaker Kang Chang-hee put the bill to a vote. He rejected individual requests filed by all 127 DP members to speak on the matter in a filibuster attempt. Kang said the requests were irrelevant in the case of a confirmation bill.

The DP vowed to take legal action against what they claimed was Kang’s “trampling of lawmakers’ rights” and to file an injunction for the suspension of Hwang’s duties.

“Today will be recorded as a day of humiliation committed by the Assembly speaker and the Saenuri Party,” said DP floor spokesperson Rep. Park Soo-hyun.

“Speaker Kang put the confirmation to a vote saying it was not subject to a parliamentary debate. The National Assembly Act, however, stipulates that unlimited debate must take place regardless of agenda when demanded by one third of the attending lawmakers,” he claimed.

The parties are expected to further engage in a political war of nerves, only a year since both parties rallied for “new politics,” quashing hopes the Assembly would deviate from the cycle of delayed budget approval.

As the Assembly buzzed with the Saenuri Party’s unilateral confirmation of Hwang’s appointment, wrangling over the pro-North controversy intensified. The controversy has recently been fueled by Catholic priest Park Chang-shin’s remarks that appeared to support North Korea’s deadly 2010 attack on a South Korean island.

The Saenuri Party, criticized by opponents as being controlled by Cheong Wa Dae, blamed the DP for obstructing normal administrative operation and siding with the pro-North.

“After shaking up the country by bringing pro-North forces into the Assembly (referring to the leftist Unified Progressive Party), the DP is now bringing religious forces into its pan-opposition alliance ahead of next year’s local elections and thereby creating another upheaval,” said Saenuri Supreme Council member Yoo Soo-taek.

The DP, struggling to satisfy its hot-headed members, in turn, blasted back at the Park administration and the Saenuri Party, for their pro-North offensive, calling it hard-right rhetoric.

“I am outraged at the fact that the Saenuri Party and Cheong Wa Dae are on a witch-hunt, calling even the priest organization and the priests pro-North,” said DP Rep. Moon Jae-in, former presidential rival to Park.

Moon, a Catholic, attended a Mass “for democracy and peace on the Korean Peninsula” held at the Assembly and lashed out at his rivals for “making a mockery of themselves globally” by launching a prosecutorial probe into the priest’s remarks as a violation of the National Security Act.

All the while, the main parties, especially the DP, were seen sweating over the future muscle of the new party to be created by independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, following his long-awaited announcement Thursday morning.

Both parties remained cautious with textbook statements, saying they hoped Ahn’s new political force would bring change for the better.

As the Saenuri Party raised its stake with the confirmation, President Park Geun-hye took her cue to highlight the need for prompt passage of the 2014 budget.

“If the budget and bills for next year are not passed at the Assembly, it will harm our economy that is only starting to revive, while doubling the pain felt by the people,” Park said during a meeting with economic advisors.

Following the unilateral passage of Hwang Chan-hyon, confirmations of other nominees including Moon Hyung-pyo as welfare minister and Kim Jin-tae as prosecutor general appeared imminent as they only require President Park’s final say.

On Wednesday, the Saenuri Party, which holds a majority in the special confirmation hearing committee, indicated it will push ahead with the confirmation delayed by political wrangling over a series of ideological disputes.

The DP argued that the confirmation cannot be voted on as the revised Assembly Act limits the scope of the Assembly speaker’s discretion to put a bill for a vote to only cases of natural disasters and state emergencies. The Saenuri Party countered that the confirmation bill can automatically be put for a general vote after it passes the committee in accordance with the Personal Hearing Act.

The BAI’s top post has been left vacant for about three months after Yang Kun resigned citing undue external pressure in conducting his job.

The DP has been demanding President Park withdraw her choice for the welfare minister in exchange for their consensus to approve the BAI chief nominee.

They oppose Moon’s appointment citing his alleged misappropriation of public funds and his stance on what the opposition claims is the backtracked welfare policies of Park.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)