The ruling party clinched a parliamentary majority with victories Wednesday in the July by-elections, shooing away fears that the opposition could dismember President Park Geun-hye’s policy initiatives 18 months into her term.
The governing Saenuri Party now holds 158 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly after winning 11 in the July 30 by-elections.
The parliamentary upper hand will smoothen the process of legislating policies sponsored by the Saenuri Party and President Park.
Park has been emphasizing economic growth since her Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. The Saenuri Party also campaigned on a similar platform, pleading for voters to support the government’s efforts to improve the economy.
Fear among South Koreans that Asia’s fourth-largest economy could slip into something similar to Japan’s “lost two decades” has also helped gather public support for the economic policies of Park and the ruling party. Most notable among the policies is Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan’s plans to inject about 41 trillion won ($39.9 billion) into the economy.
Forecasts on Wednesday by the Bank of Korea, Seoul’s central bank, repeated warnings that slowing domestic demand after the April ferry disaster could linger, and predicted inflation could stay just under 2 percent this year.
A parliamentary majority will also give advantages to Saenuri lawmakers negotiating the so-called “special Sewol bill.” The proposed bill aims to create an inquiry panel of lawmakers and outside experts to probe the government’s botched rescue efforts after the ferry Sewol began sinking on April 16.
Lawmakers have been divided along party lines over whether to give members of an inquiry panel prosecutorial powers. Opposition parties support empowering inquirers with legal authority while the Saenuri Party does not.
Rival parties have refused to budge since the controversy over the bill began on July 12, when a bipartisan task force was set up to write the legislation.
Since the Saenuri Party has finalized its numerical advantage on Wednesday, it would have an advantage in any vote on the controversial bill in the assembly.
The Saenuri Party’s landslide win also showed public support was lower than expected for the opposition in the negotiations over the controversial bill, according to sources.
But amendments to the National Assembly Act made in 2012 could allow the opposition to mount a stronger-than-expected defense in the national legislature.
Prospective laws must undergo three parliamentary reviews ― first at a parliamentary committee, then at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, and finally at a debate in a full parliamentary session.
The 2012 changes to parliamentary laws, however, allow the chief of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee to indefinitely withhold contentious bills from a debate at a full session ― and thereby prevent such bills from being legislated.
If more than 60 percent of lawmakers on a parliamentary committee sign a petition, they can override the Legislation and Judiciary Committee chairman. But no party holds more than 60 percent of the seats in any of the 16 permanent parliamentary committees, despite the Saenuri’s wins on Wednesday.
With Rep. Lee Sang-min of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy holding the legislative committee chair, the opposition could possibly block controversial bills from passing.
The amendments also arm the opposition with the option of filibusters. Filibusters are permitted if more than one-third of lawmakers approve. Important fiscal laws such as legislation governing next year’s government budget, however, are unaffected by filibusters.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)