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Ruling party pushes for Assembly act revision

The ruling Saenuri Party urged on Thursday a revision to the bill that was aimed at reforming the legislation process, blaming the rules for creating legislative gridlock.

Senior members of the Saenuri Party criticized the so-called “National Assembly Advancement Act” for blocking the passage of key draft bills such as a national pension reform bill. The law requires the approval of more than three-fifths of lawmakers to put contentious draft bills to a final vote on the floor.

“The National Advancement Act is a main culprit (for the Assembly’s impasse),” said Rep. Suh Chung-won of Saenuri Party on Thursday. “I will do whatever it takes to revise the act. If necessary, we should file a constitutional appeal or revise the National Assembly law,” said Suh.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, however, had asserted that the accusation was an attempt to cover the governing party’s uncompromising attitudes during parliamentary negotiations.

“(Saenuri Party) is shifting the blame over the assembly act,” NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jung-gul said earlier this month. “I understand there are some issues with the act, but the act itself was an agreement between us and Saenuri Party. Saenuri Party should reflect on what they have done,” said Lee.

The act, introduced in 2012, aims to prevent the majority party from unilaterally attempting to bulldoze through bills, while keeping in check any attempt by a party to violently block a passage of bills.

According to the act, a parliamentary speaker is not allowed to put a bill to a final vote unless there is a national emergency, an act of God or a consensus between the speaker and each party’s parliamentary representatives.

Instead, the act introduced a faster legislative process for bills pending in the Legislative and Judiciary Committee, the last stop before a floor vote, for more than 120 days.

The fast-track vote would take place when demanded by at least half of the attending lawmakers of a relevant committee or lawmakers of the plenary session, to be approved by three-fifths of the lawmakers in a secret ballot vote.

The act, widely hailed at the time as a step towards an improved parliamentary culture, was expected to foster committee-level dialogue and trade-offs among lawmakers.

Some members of the Saenuri Party, many of whom also expressed doubt over the efficacy at the time, blamed the act for obstructing the legislative process because it requires the consensus of three-fifths of lawmakers to bring key draft bills to the floor. They asserted the provision is unconstitutional. Some party members filed a constitutional appeal to the court in January.

According to the Korea constitution, majority rule shall be applied at the National Assembly unless otherwise stated in the law or Constitution.

Experts gave mixed views to the act’s constitutionality. “The act agrees with the balance of power principle,” said Lee Sang-don, legal professor at Chung-Ang University, in an op-ed to a local daily. “The rationale for (the act) is based on the principle, so is the president’s right to veto,” he said.

Shin-yul, a political professor at Myongji University, on the other hand, said, “The bill could be unconstitutional.” “But I doubt whether the National Assembly would be fully functional. I am not sure if there is sufficient legislative mechanism to hear the minority voices,” said Shin.

The public is squarely divided on the effectiveness of the act. According to a Gallup poll conducted from May 19 to 21 involving 1,400 adults, 42 percent of respondents said they approved the revision of the act, while 41 percent opposed the revision, well within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)
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