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First plenary session to be held under new government

As the National Assembly gears up for the first parliamentary plenary session of the Moon administration on Monday, attention is focused on whether some of the controversial reform bills will pass a National Assembly dominated by opposition parties.

The floor leaders of the five main parties met President Moon Jae-in soon after his inauguration and agreed to create a policy consultative body for regular discussions between the ruling and opposition parties.

However, the outlook for reform legislation looks uncertain, and the June plenary session will test the so-called cooperative governance envisioned by the government.

The National Assembly holds a plenary session at the parliamentary building in Seoul on March 30, 2017. (Yonhap)
The National Assembly holds a plenary session at the parliamentary building in Seoul on March 30, 2017. (Yonhap)

One of the more contentious issues is whether deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD system should be put to a vote in the Assembly.

While Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense insisted that the deployment is not a matter for parliamentary consent, Moon’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea repeatedly has said that it needs ratification as the previous administration did not build public consensus in making the crucial decision.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the splinter conservative Bareun Party said he would not stand by and watch the government make the wrong decision.

“The deal has already been made and it is covered under the South Korea-US mutual defense treaty already approved by the National Assembly,” he said.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party also stands to oppose the Democratic Party.

Opposing factions are also divided over on the new government’s plan to expand the supplementary budget to increase jobs in the public sector.

During the electioneering period, Moon had pledged to create 810,000 jobs in public institutes and government organizations, which the opposition parties called “unrealistic and short-sighted.”

Moon also said he would like to plan a supplementary budget of 10 trillion won ($9 billion) for the employment scheme.

Opposition parties, while agreeing on the need to set a supplementary budget, showed skepticism at the idea of using tax to create more jobs.

“The plan lacks fundamental details of the plan. It would be a waste of taxpayers’ precious money,” Rep. Lee Yong-ho, the chief policy maker of the centrist People’s Party said. “Increasing tax to create more jobs would be passing the burden to the next generation.”

The splinter Bareun Party also said they would look into the details of the source of the finance.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party maintained that employment should be increased in the private sector.

“Making jobs with extra budget is only a temporary plan. The private sector should take the role of boosting employment and lead the increase of tax revenues,” Rep. Lee Hyun-jae, the Liberty Korea Party’s policy chief said.

Another point of dispute is the three-part reform -- restructuring of the prosecution, National Intelligence Service, and the media.

While the issue of an overhaul of the nation’s prosecution has been on the negotiation table in previous governments, an agreement was never reached.

As the new government seeks to establish a new government body to watch for corruption in public offices, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which holds 107 seats at the 299-member parliament, showed disapproval.

“It is a unilateral decision made by the government without a thorough review or a clear direction (to create the watchdog body) on such an important issue related to the nation’s fate,” Rep. Bak Maeng-woo, the conservative party’s secretary-general said.

The ruling Democratic Party is seeking to win the other parties around through negotiation.

“The National Assembly was often divided when one side pushes too hard to pass a reform bill,” said the party’s spokesperson Rep. Kang Hoon-sik.

They held a party workshop on Sunday where the lawmakers discussed their strategic plans for the smooth operation of the provisional plenary sessions and the confirmation hearings of the new Cabinet members.

With the first parliamentary session taking place Monday, three more are scheduled for June.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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