August, a sultry month for holidaymaking, may not be amenable to engaging in heated political deals. But that is what lawmakers are required to do, with the National Assembly statutorily required to open a special session on each even-numbered month prior to September when a 100-day regular session starts.
Moreover, the National Assembly needs to act on as many pending bills as possible during the August session. Otherwise, it will be difficult to offload them from the docket anytime soon because its members will be mostly occupied with two main tasks during the regular session ― deliberating on the administration’s 2012 budget request and making inquiries into projects run by government agencies, state-invested corporations and state-funded organizations.
Debate on the budget bill in particular is so intense that its passage hardly meets its Dec. 2 statutory deadline. Simply put, representatives can hardly afford to spend much time on lawmaking when the regular session starts. That is the reason that they will have to select the most urgent among the 6,000 or so bills pending at standing committees and act on them during the August session.
But it is hard to tell when the session will be opened, though August has already started. The ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party are so wide apart on what the calendar should be like that no one should be blamed for wondering aloud if the session will ever be opened.
The main obstacles to an accord on the calendar is a populist proposal to cut university tuition fees by half and a demand for testimony by Cho Nam-ho, chairman of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, which is embroiled in one of the worst labor disputes in recent years.
The Democratic Party has set the Grand National Party’s approval of those requests as the precondition for calling the National Assembly into session. But the Grand National Party demands that the session be opened first and that the opposition’s requests be dealt with during the session.
It is unbecoming of a responsible political party to threaten to boycott a parliamentary session if its precondition is not met. The session cannot be held hostage in any way. The Democratic Party should negotiate deals with the ruling party while participating in the session.
The Grand National Party has to shoulder its share of blame, given that it is retreating from its near endorsement of a 50-percent cut in university tuition fees. It attempted to co-opt the opposition’s proposal only to abandon the idea when the administration rejected it as a populist approach. It was wasting its breath when it belatedly pointed out that tuition fees doubled under the previous two administrations.
A better solution will be for the ruling party to accept one of the two demands in a compromise ― committing itself to seeking testimony by the Hanjin chairman, who left the country on June 22 apparently to avoid an earlier summons by the National Assembly. It will be worth pressuring him to return home not only to testify when the two parties agree on his testimony but also to get himself directly involved in settling the labor dispute. With one of its former employees staging a sit-in protest on top of a crane in the company’s Busan shipyard for seven months, the problem is worsening.
Such a compromise is all the more necessary because the ruling party earnestly desires to have the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement ratified and pass other urgent bills during the August session. The Federation of Korean Industries and other business organizations look to the free trade agreement as a new opportunity to expand exports to the U.S.
There is no knowing when the motion for ratification will be dealt with, if not this time. When the regular session is over in December, the attention of lawmakers will undoubtedly be diverted to the next general elections scheduled for April. That is the very reason why the ruling party must try hard to strike a deal with the opposition, open the August session at an early date and put the motion to a vote as soon as possible. There is little time to waste.