The 19th National Assembly wraps up the first half of its four-year term with a monthlong extraordinary session that started Tuesday.
Thus far the performance of the current Assembly has been disappointing, to say the least. During the past two years, some 9,500 proposals have been submitted to the Assembly, with about 28 percent of them dealt with.
For most of the period, the Assembly has been unable to function properly due to a standoff between the two main parties. To make the first half of their term more productive, legislators will have to work day and night throughout the April session.
The two political parties have pledged to focus on deliberating bills. With the June 4 local elections just two months away, they feel the need to project the image of caring about the lives of ordinary people.
Yet the session is unlikely to progress smoothly. The two parties are expected to clash over almost every legislative proposal, with the most contentious issue likely to be candidate nominations for local elections.
During the 2012 presidential election campaigns, the two parties both pledged to stop nominating candidates for mayors and councils of small cities. But the ruling Saenuri Party has recently declared it would not be constrained by the promise, angering the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, which has decided to keep its pledge.
On Tuesday, some 20 NPAD lawmakers started an indefinite sit-in at the central hall of the parliamentary building, calling on the ruling party to play fair. Some of the party’s leaders also started a sit-in in a tent set up in front of Seoul City Hall.
Yet the nomination issue should not be allowed to disrupt the Assembly session. It is up to the NPAD to protest the ruling party for reneging on its campaign pledge. But the protest should not hamper legislative activities.
A key proposal that needs to be approved this month is the government’s pension plan for senior citizens. Last year, the government promised to start paying the benefits this July. For this to happen, the proposal should have been passed in March at the latest. Yet the two parties simply let the deadline pass without a deal, disappointing senior citizens. They should reach a compromise without further delay.
Legislators should also push through other important bills, including several economic reform proposals, which have remained in limbo for too long. For instance, proposals on promoting tourism, shortening working hours and protecting financial consumers need to be enacted promptly.
To make the National Assembly more productive, ruling party floor leader Choi Kyoung-hwan has openly called for revision of the present National Assembly Act.
The present act requires a three-fifths majority to bring legislative bills from standing committees to the plenary. This requirement was intended to eliminate brawls among lawmakers. But the main opposition party has frequently relied on it to stymie the ruling party’s initiatives.
To address the problem, Choi proposed a fast-track mechanism in which non-controversial bills would be designated as “green light bills” and sent to the plenary session promptly.
The main opposition party is unlikely to accept Choi’s proposal. But it deserves consideration. The party needs to put itself in its rival’s position. Had it been the ruling party, it would probably have come up with a similar proposal.