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With opposition leader's return, assembly set to start review of urgent bills

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The National Assembly is likely to set out to review urgent pending issues, including an extra budget bill, this week after the main opposition floor leader vowed to return from his weeklong protest over the ruling party's "unilateral" election of standing committee chairmen.

Rep. Joo Ho-young, the floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), offered to resign from his seat a week earlier briefly after the ruling majority Democratic Party (DP) elected the chairmen of the assembly's key six standing committees, including the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, in a plenary session without the UFP's participation.

Joo has since been away from the political scene and toured local Buddhist temples in protest, while UFP lawmakers stepped up efforts to bring him back to office.

As Joo's absence prolonged, National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug canceled a plenary session last Friday, and the chamber came to a standstill despite a slew of pending issues, including a new COVID-19 response budget bill and growing inter-Korean tensions.

"I will continue (my) battle after joining a standing committee," Joo told Yonhap News Agency on Sunday, expressing his plan to return to the chamber within this week.

The floor leader said he would rather have the DP control all the 18 standing committees than negotiating with the DP for the chairmanship of the remaining standing committees. 

"The DP should take all the 18 committee chairman seats," Joo said, upping the ante against the DP. The UFP had unsuccessfully sought to take the chairmanship of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, a major parliamentary leverage against the ruling party, that has been previously reserved for the main opposition party.

Joo and the UFP's interim leader Kim Chong-in reportedly shared a stance that if the chairmanship of the legislation committee cannot be surrendered, they would rather have the DP control all committees so that the ruling party will be held entirely accountable for the running of state affairs.

The DP is adamant that the UFP is entitled to take seven out of the 18 committee leadership seats in proportion to their parliamentary share of 103 seats in the 300-member chamber.

Joo's impending return to the National Assembly stands to revive the process to finalize the organization of the 18 parliamentary committees, a prerequisite before the chamber will be able to deliberate on the pending extra budget bill, as well as growing inter-Korean tensions and other urgent issues.

The government submitted the special budget bill worth 35.3 trillion won ($29 billion) to the National Assembly on June 4, a third extra budget devised to defend the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has remained untouched at the chamber for over two weeks amid the ongoing bipartisan wrangling, despite the government's repeated calls for the bill's passage in June.

On Sunday, President Moon Jae-in doubled down on his call for the bill's parliamentary approval.

"(The government's call) for the June passage should not be derailed, and (the National Assembly) should seek an extraordinary solution (for that)," presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok quoted Moon as saying.

"The more the bill gets delayed, the more the people suffer. ... The public is taking the extra budget for granted," Moon said, pressing the assembly. (Yonhap)
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