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[Newsmaker] Bareunmirae Party’s deepening conflict to hold back fast-tracking of key bills

Eyes on whether former party leader Ahn Cheol-soo will return to Korea in summer

Intensifying dispute between members of the minor conservative Bareunmirae Party due to differing views on the independent investigative agency has sparked the possibility of former party leader Ahn Cheol-soo’s return to politics.

In the midst of Bareunmirae Party members showing no signs of reaching an agreement, some party officials have hinted at the possibility co-party founder Ahn could return home from his stay in Europe in June, three months earlier than the initially scheduled September, to settle the conflict.


Tweaking consensus built among four political parties earlier this month on fast-tracking 10 key bills, some members of the Bareunmirae Party voiced opposition about details of the independent investigative agency. The agency, if established, would be tasked to look into irregularities of high-ranking government officials.

Following multiple heated discussions, the Bareunmirae Party said last week it will not greenlight the fast-tracking plan unless the ruling Democratic Party of Korea adopts its version of the independent investigative agency. Under the Bareunmirae Party’s plans, the envisioned agency would have investigative powers, but the prosecution will retain sole power to indict.

“As for fast-tracking bills, there will be no further discussions unless Bareunmirae Party’s three requirements are accepted,” party leader Kim Kwan-young said in a letter sent to party members last week.

The ruling party, on the other hand, argues that giving the agency authority to indict is vital in balancing power with the prosecution. In South Korea the prosecution has exclusive authority to indict suspects.

“If the investigative agency purposed by the ruling party was established when former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui’s scandal initially broke out, there would be no trace left of the case. ... The unit will be under the influence of the president and the ruling party,” said Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the Bareunmirae Party.

The latest orgy scandal involving former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui and the power abuse of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Seung-tae, among other cases, have raised the need to set up an independent investigative unit.

Bareunmirae Party members are largely divided into two groups -- those from the now disbanded conservative Bareun Party and the disbanded progressive People’s Party -- on fast-tracking the key bills.

“The division mostly stems from lawmakers’ personal interests. Some, mostly lawmakers who were once part of the Saenuri Party (a precedent of the Liberty Korea Party) are opposed to the fast-tracking to prevent disadvantages -- from losing their parliamentary seats. Also to keep open the possibility of merging with the Liberty Korea Party,” said Shin Yul, a politics professor at Myongji University.

The mixed-member proportional representation system agreed to by the four parties holds the number of parliamentary seats at 300, while increasing proportional representation slots to 75 from the current 47.

According to hypothetical general election results by pollster Realmeter, under the new system Bareunmirae Party’s parliamentary seats would be reduced to 19 seats from the current 29.

A party needs more than 20 parliamentary seats to be recognized as a political negotiation body.

The pollster showed the minor progressive Justice Party would gain the most with the new electoral system in next year’s general election, clinching 15 parliamentary seats from its current five.

Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, chief of the special parliamentary committee on political reform, stepped up pressure on the ruling party to wrap up the electoral reform and fast-tracking bills, saying a small deal would benefit the public more than no deal.

She also pointed out that Yoo Seong-min and Ahn Cheol-soo had each vowed to set up an independent investigative unit with the authority to investigate and indict suspects when they were candidates for the 19th presidential election, demanding a reason behind some Bareunmirae Party lawmakers’ sudden disapproval.

Following defeat in the 2017 presidential election, the Bareun Party led by Yoo and People’s Party led by Ahn merged and formed the current minor opposition Bareunmirae Party in February 2018.

“This is the last week to save the chance to fast-track the bills. If electoral reform fails this time, the opportunity may never come,” Shim posted on social media.

“Of course, individual lawmakers can have different opinions and their opinions can change. However, the Bareunmirae Party needs to explain how there can be two contrasting arguments within a party merged by Yoo Seong-min and Ahn Cheol-soo,” she added.

By Kim Bo-gyung (