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[Editorial] Back to normal

Assembly Advancement Act must go

Ruling party leader Kim Moo-sung rekindled public attention in two important political agendas - revising the National Assembly Advancement Act that has often incapacitated the parliament and instituting open primaries for major elections.

Kim mentioned the proposals in a news conference Monday, which marked a year since he took the helm of the Saenuri Party. It is not the first time that he has spoken about these issues, but the anniversary press meeting surely added political weight to his stance on them.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy showed mixed reactions. It responded positively to the proposal to introduce open primaries, but expressed opposition to revision of the assembly advancement act.

It would be difficult for those in the opposition to give up a rule that allows them greater-than-normal power in dealing with the majority ruling party, but it is regrettable that the NPAD is trying to shun the issue. 

The act, which took effect in 2012, was enacted to prevent the majority party from railroading bills, which often resulted in violent clashes between members of rival parties. Under the act, the speaker is banned from putting a bill to a vote of the full parliament without the assent of at least three-fifths of Assembly members. It also made filibusters a lot easier.

In practice, this means the parliament cannot pass legislation without an agreement between the rival parties. The act simply made the very basic element of parliamentary democracy - the principle of majority rule - worthless. 

It is true that in a democracy, political parties should try to seek compromise first and that minority views should not be dismissed. But when you fail to reach an agreement, the principle of majority rule should prevail.

The opposition has often exploited the act, thwarting parliamentary business by tying handling of legislative bills to other bills or political issues. So much so that the Assembly has been described as being in “a vegetative state.” This abnormality should be redressed as soon as possible.

As Kim said, no one knows which party will obtain a majority of parliamentary seats in next April’s elections. Which is why the opposition has little ground to oppose revision of the undemocratic act.

Kim’s proposal for the ruling and opposition parties to hold the open primaries on the same day also makes good sense, in that critics pointed to the possibility that supporters of a candidate could vote for the weakest rival candidate in the primaries.

Open primaries will make sure elections reflect broader public sentiment, address the problems of power concentrated in the party headquarters, and, above all else, preclude the top-down nominations of candidates, which has fostered “boss politics” and corruption. 

The ruling and opposition parties should start talks on the revision of the Assembly Advancement Act and the adoption of open primaries as soon as possible.