The Korea Herald


Blame game builds up on 1st day of parliamentary audit

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Oct. 10, 2023 - 15:49

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This photo shows seata for the National Defense Committee auditing session vacant due to the ruling People Power Party lawmakers' refusal to attend at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) This photo shows seata for the National Defense Committee auditing session vacant due to the ruling People Power Party lawmakers' refusal to attend at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

A series of flare-ups gave rise to a political blame game at the South Korean National Assembly's audit sessions that kicked off Tuesday.

The ruling People Power Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Korea bickered over the fallout from President Yoon Suk Yeol's controversial approval of a new defense minister and a leadership void in the judiciary system for the first time in 35 years.

Also topping the agenda was Seoul's stance over the release of treated wastewater in eastern Japan and the financial trouble of the state-run utility firm Korea Electric Power Corp., among others.

The audit by the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly did not properly start on Tuesday. The ruling and opposition parties were at odds over the placards placed by the opposition party at the auditing venue calling on Yoon to withdraw his decision Saturday to approve Shin Won-sik as the new defense minister.

Ruling party lawmakers refused to attend the auditing session, asking the opposition to take down the placards. The liberal opposition rejected the request, reiterating the party line that Shin is unsuitable for the position, while bringing up his controversial remarks in 2019 where he likened former liberal president Moon Jae-in to a spy for North Korea.

As for the National Assembly's failed attempt to pass a motion on Friday to approve Lee Gyun-yong as the chief justice to lead the Supreme Court of Korea, Rep. Park Dae-chul of the People Power Party claimed that the opposition bloc, which holds the majority at the National Assembly, voted down the motion to delay the criminal punishment of Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung. Lee currently faces multiple past white-collar crime allegations.

At the audit by the parliament's Legislation and Judiciary Committee, Park suspected that by leveraging its voting power, the Democratic Party is trying to "execute a ploy to bring the judicial system under political control, based on the notion that there is no other way out for (Democratic Party) Chairman Lee Jae-myung to overcome his legal troubles."

But Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party said those who proposed to name a disqualified nominee like the Justice Ministry or President Yoon are to blame for the situation where a chief justice nominee failed to get the parliamentary nod for the first time since 1988.

Liberal lawmakers have expressed opposition, citing the chief justice nominee's rulings to exonerate both a sex offender and an individual allegedly involved in the manipulation of judicial affairs, as well as his failure to declare assets worth about 1 billion won ($740,000).

Acting Chief Justice Ahn Chul-sang said during the audit that "disturbances will play out" if the top seat of the judiciary system remains to be vacated for a long time.

The Yoon administration was also under fire for its failure to prevent Japan from releasing treated wastewater from a nuclear power plant in Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. During a Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee session, Rep. Kim Kyung-hyeop of the Democratic Party claimed that South Korea was trying to "get on friendly terms with Japan and advocate Japan's position in its radioactive water disposal."

Democratic Party lawmakers also criticized the Foreign Ministry for its failure to disclose the original statement by South Korea in a closed-door session during the 45th Consultative Meeting of Contracting Parties to the London Convention and the 18th Meeting of Contracting Parties to the London Protocol last week in London. Foreign Minister Park Jin responded that it is improper for the ministry to release a statement ahead of the organizing authorities.

Meanwhile, Industry Minister Bang Moon-kyu said at Tuesday's audit session that Kepco’s dire financial situation "would not have happened had the electricity price hike been executed," in an apparent reference to the former Moon Jae-in administration's failure to do so when needed. Bang's remarks came in response to Democratic Party Rep. Yangyi Won-young's inquiry about the state-run utility’s worsening financial woes.

Tuesday's sessions marked the start of a 24-day parliamentary audit targeted at a total of 791 government entities including ministries, agencies and state-backed institutions, among others.

The blame game is unlikely to simmer down, as the audit comes ahead of a general election in April 2024.

The Democratic Party’s Floor Leader Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo said Tuesday that the ruling party and the Yoon administration's blaming of the former government and opposition parties for the failure in economic development "will only make the national crises worse."

People Power Party floor leader Rep. Yun Jae-ok said the opposition leaders' legal risks were causing unnecessary political clashes.