A tense standoff between the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party over the fast-tracking of reform bills continued Sunday, with both parties ordering their members to remain in the National Assembly building in case the special committees on political reform and judiciary reform hold surprise meetings.
Vowing to spare no effort to stop the ruling party from fast-tracking key reform bills, the Liberty Korea Party was on the alert throughout the weekend.
Divided into four groups, conservative party lawmakers took turns staging sit-ins in front of room 445, where the special committee on political reform usually convenes.
The political reform committee is to vote on fast-tracking an electoral reform bill that includes the adaptation of a mixed-member proportional representative system.
If the new electoral system is implemented, the Liberty Korea Party risks losing as many as 20 parliamentary seats, while the minor progressive Justice Party would earn 10 more seats and become a political negotiating body, according to the results of a mock election conducted by local pollsters.
Criticizing the fast-tracking of the reform bills, the Liberty Korea Party staged a second rally at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on Saturday.
The party’s leadership, including leader Hwang Kyo-ahn and Floor Leader Na Kyung-won, attended the mass rally alongside its members, excluding those on duty at the National Assembly. The party said some 50,000 people joined the rally.
“The far-left administration is trying to complete the last piece of the puzzle for a dictatorship (by) using the fast track. In particular, it is forcefully attempting to fast-track the electoral reform bill to craft an election in its favor,” said Hwang.
Na said, “Leftist forces are trying to root out liberal democracy in the Republic of Korea. We ask you to judge them at next year’s general election.”
Meanwhile, the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, which is experiencing severe intraparty conflicts, holds the key to putting the contentious bills on the fast track.
Following Thursday’s overnight confrontation -- involving physical brawls, abusive language and property damage -- the special committee on judiciary reform convened a meeting Friday evening, which fell through due to the lack of a quorum.
Rep. Chae Yi-bae of the Bareunmirae Party did not show up at the meeting. Rep. Lim Jae-hun of the Bareunmirae Party also did not attend, saying, “I had high expectations for the meeting, but it is regrettable that my name is mentioned in the controversy.”
Disputes within the Bareunmirae Party have escalated since Floor Leader Kim Kwan-young chose to replace two lawmakers opposed to the establishment of an independent investigative body on the judiciary reform committee, without their consent.
Rep. Park Jie-won of the Party for Democracy and Peace said he was not able to enter the room as Liberty Korea Party members blocked entry.
The 18-member committee -- consisting of eight Democratic Party lawmakers, seven Liberty Korea Party lawmakers, two Bareunmirae Party lawmakers and one Party for Democracy and Peace lawmaker -- needs at least 11 votes to pass a bill.
Due to the absence of the Bareunmirae Party lawmakers, the special committee on political reform also failed to vote on the electoral reform bill.
Rep. Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party, the chair of the special committee on political reform, said the committee was waiting for the Bareunmirae Party to resolve its internal conflicts.
Sim emphasized in a press conference Sunday that the biggest goal of the electoral reforms is to “give the National Assembly back to the citizens.”
The current system underrepresents minority voices, she said, adding that the new one would “give those without power and money (a chance) to enter the National Assembly via an expanded proportional representative system.”
Meanwhile, for the first time since the National Assembly Advancement Act took effect in 2012, the Liberty Korea Party has been accused of violating articles 165 and 166 of the National Assembly law.
Alleging an illegal takeover of the National Assembly by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party has taken legal action against 20 of its members, including 18 main opposition party lawmakers, having filed its complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office last week.
Violating the law is punishable by up to seven years behind bars and a fine of up to 20 million won ($17,226).
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party faces the possibility of further legal consequences over its aggressive protests, as Rep. Sim Sang-jung pledged to hold the party accountable for “illegal protests and causing violence at the National Assembly.”
“The Justice Party plans to take legal action against the Liberty Korea Party and hold it legally accountable without exception. If we don’t address the issue, we cannot uphold the rule of law,” Sim said.
By Kim Bo-gyung (email@example.com