The Korea Herald


Assembly speaker elected without a single ruling party vote

Woo, five-time Democratic Party lawmaker, has reputation of being “Japan hawk”

By Kim Arin

Published : June 5, 2024 - 18:07

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Rep. Woo Won-shik, a five-time Democratic Party of Korea lawmaker, was elected speaker of the National Assembly for the new term on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Rep. Woo Won-shik, a five-time Democratic Party of Korea lawmaker, was elected speaker of the National Assembly for the new term on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The speaker to lead the first half of the National Assembly through its new term was elected Wednesday in a vote that was held in the absence of the ruling People Power Party.

The first plenary session of the new Assembly term was convened on this day before a bipartisan agreement could be reached over appointment of committee chairs.

The Democratic Party of Korea -- which outnumbers the People Power Party by 171 to 108 -- is pushing to chair all of the 17 committees of the Assembly. The ruling party objected, saying a single party dominating committee chairpersonship was “out of tradition and unprecedented.”

The Democratic Party-controlled Assembly pushed through with the plenary session where the new speaker -- Rep. Woo Won-shik -- was elected. Out of the 192 present lawmakers of the Democratic Party and minor parties, 189 voted in favor of having the five-time lawmaker as next speaker.

No vote was cast from the ruling party, marking an unprecedented instance of a unilateral action by the Democratic Party.

The People Power Party protested Wednesday’s speaker election as the Democratic Party’s “abuse of its Assembly majority.” “The Democratic Party must stop with its one-party monopoly that smothers democracy at the Assembly,” the party said in a statement.

Woo, known for having led anti-Japan campaigns within the Democratic Party, has a reputation of being a “Japan hawk” among the rival party and observers.

He went on a two-week hunger strike in July last year over Japan’s plan to discard wastewater from the quake-wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant. He also formally asked the International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi to change the United Nations watchdog’s verdict that found Japan’s plan to be safe.

In his first remarks delivered as speaker, Woo said that the Assembly was facing a “crisis.” “The legislative authority of the Assembly is a crisis,” he said, asking President Yoon Suk Yeol and his administration to “respect the Assembly and its unique authority.”

The two major parties locked horns over Yoon’s decision to fully suspend the 2018 inter-Korean pact, with the Democratic Party lawmakers who were part of the preceding Moon Jae-in administration slamming the move as a “death sentence to peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Democratic Party lawmakers said Yoon halting the pact -- over which the two Koreas agreed to minimize military activities along the border amid a thaw in relations in 2018 -- subjected the country to the threats of a war.

In a joint statement, the lawmakers said with the pact’s suspension the Korean Peninsula has become a place where “not only military conflict but a full-blown war can break out at any given moment.”

Rep. Youn Kun-young, who was senior secretary for Moon, said that the series of provocations from North Korea were evidence that the conservative president’s “hawkish approach is not working.”

“If the so-called peace through force really worked, we should be seeing a decrease in provocations from North Korea. But the opposite has been happening,” he said.

Rep. Han Ki-ho, who is steering the People Power Party committee for national security and defense affairs, told The Korea Herald that after North Korea withdrew from the pact altogether last year, a one-sided compliance on South Korea’s part was not “working out in our favor.”

“Right now at the committee we are on the lookout for how North Korea is going to react to our government decision to halt the pact temporarily.”