National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa has been under strong pressure from President Park Geun-hye and the ruling Saenuri Party to play the villain in enacting a set of reform bills. But Chung, a fifth-term lawmaker, is not a pushover.
On Wednesday, Saenuri lawmakers held a general meeting to adopt a resolution calling on the speaker to directly refer the bills to a plenary session for voting, as the relevant standing committees could not be convened for deliberations due to the split of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
Under the current National Assembly Act, the speaker can table bills directly to the plenary session only when there is a natural disaster, war or national emergency, or when the speaker reaches an agreement with the ruling and opposition parties.
Saenuri lawmakers argue, echoing Park, that the present situation can be seen as a national emergency, as the worsening global economic conditions threaten to push the Korean economy into a crisis.
To prevent the economy from going into a crisis, they argue, reforms should be carried out now, and this means the reform bills should be passed through the Assembly as early as possible by any means.
The Saenuri lawmakers’ move came one day after Park sent her senior secretary for political affairs to Chung to push him toward putting the reform bills to a vote at a plenary session.
But Chung refused to be bossed around. Refuting the argument that the present situation constituted a national emergency, he said Park and Saenuri lawmakers wanted him to do something that he simply could not.
However, he said he would use his prerogative if the ruling and opposition parties fail to reach an accord on redrawing the electoral map for the April general elections within this year, because otherwise there would be chaos.
The speaker is right to reject Saenuri’s argument, which is far-fetched to say the least. We agree that the Korean economy faces strong headwinds. But asserting that the nation is in an emergency is hardly convincing.
The blame for the failure to enact the bills on labor reform and economic revitalization lies primarily with the NPAD, which is now in disarray.
But Park cannot escape her share of the blame. Instead of denouncing lawmakers, especially those from the NPAD, for failing to do their job, she should have made more efforts to sell the bills to them.
Park has seldom invited opposition lawmakers to discuss national issues or sell her ideas. If she keeps a distance from opposition lawmakers, she will continue to face difficulty implementing her key policies.