The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Disgraced to the end

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 19, 2012 - 20:59

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Rep. Park Hee-tae, speaker of the National Assembly, subjected himself to a prosecutor’s inquiry into a vote-buying allegation Sunday. Though his case may have no direct link to the 18th National Assembly’s underperformance during the last four years, it certainly has added to its self-inflicted humiliation.

The floor in the main hall of the National Assembly has often become the scene of a brawl, as lawmakers attempting to railroad a bill try to break through the defenses of their rivals. Injuries have not been rare. An extreme case involved the detonation of a teargas device in the main chamber. Who could expect lawmakers to engage in rational debate under such circumstances?

Still, the questioning of Park, who had recently offered to resign as speaker, has outdone previous humiliations to the legislature ― one of the three branches of government that is empowered to represent the people.

No speaker had ever been questioned by prosecutors on a criminal case that involved him, either while in his post or afterward. But Park was suspected of buying votes for his election to the post of chairman of the ruling Grand National Party four years ago. If these allegations are correct, who could say he and the institution he headed were properly doing their task of representing people?

The criminal investigation into the vote-buying scandal came at a time when the incumbent National Assembly was nearing the end of its four-year term, with the elections for members of its successor scheduled for April 11. But many of the crucial jobs it needed to do were either done poorly or not at all.

One such example is its failure to meet the deadline for the redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts. The National Election Commission, which was required to draw up the lists of eligible voters in each district by Feb. 11, two months ahead of the general election, demanded that the election law be revised by Feb. 9 to incorporate the new boundaries.

But the ruling party, which recently changed its name from the Grand National Party to the Saenuri Party, and the main opposition Democratic United Party paid little attention to this deadline and continued to fight fiercely over the rezoning.

This protracted conflict put other important issues on the back burner. Among them were the promises to advance the nation’s parliamentary politics through legislation. They included sanctions against lawmakers using violence in session, introducing primaries to parliamentary nominations, and a change in proportional representation designed to help parties advance into the strongholds of their rivals.

The parties had little time to debate any of the issues for legislation as they were engrossed in weighing gains against losses from each of the boundary-redrawing options on the table. Moreover, some lawmakers were protesting against some of the proposals that they feared would adversely affect their reelection chances.

Also put on the back burner were bills submitted by the administration. Among them was a defense reform bill that, when passed, would help the military prepare against threats from North Korea. But the defense reform bill, along with others, will be put on the relevant standing committee calendars when the new National Assembly is formed in June.

What is important at this juncture is to ensure that the new legislature does not repeat these mistakes. The first step to be taken toward this end is not to elect candidates that are unqualified. As such, political think tanks and civic groups are encouraged to scrutinize the performances of each lawmaker, ranging from their voting records to the bills they sponsored, and share the results with the electorate. They are also urged to evaluate the credentials of nominated newcomers and make the outcomes publicly available.

When the new legislature is formed, all members must be made fully accountable to the people they are elected to represent. None of them must be allowed to advance their careers, in disregard of the interests of the electorate, by buying votes or using violence on the floor as Rep. Park and other lawmakers have done in the past.