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Will parliament clean up its act?

June 27, 2011 - 19:11 By 이선영
Rival parties agree on filibuster, new rules aimed at ending violence on floor

Rival political parties on Monday agreed on a set of measures, including a filibuster, which they hope would help end legislative violence and upgrade the political process.

“A meeting of the ruling Grand National Party and the opposition Democratic Party worked out a tentative agreement on a number of issues, including the restriction of the (National Assembly) speakers’ right to put a bill to a vote unilaterally and the adoption of a filibuster,” a source at the governing GNP said.

A filibuster is a legal way for minority parties to obstruct legislative proceedings by extending a floor speech indefinitely to block the passage of a bill. In the U.S. Senate, three-fifths of the Senate ― 60 senators out of the total 100 ― are needed to break the filibuster. The Korean parties agreed to adopt the same three-fifths bar.

The National Assembly Speaker’s authority to put bills to a vote at his or her discretion, which has often been exercised to break a partisan stalemate over contentious bills, would be significantly restricted.

The speaker will only be allowed to bypass committee deliberation and call for a vote at times of a national crisis or emergency, the party source said.

If a bill sits on the standing committee for more than 180 days, legislators will be able to file a “discharge petition” for its immediate referral to the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee for next review. The bill will then be referred to the plenary session within 60 days.

The discharge petition would require the approval by three-fifths of the lawmakers.

The accord comes as politicians across the political spectrum are scrambling to win back voters, who became disillusioned with domestic politics after periodic conflagrations at the parliamentary chamber. At one point in 2009, lawmakers battled each other with sledgehammers and fire extinguishers. The melee was broadcast nationwide and the ugly images were picked up by foreign media.

When political parties failed to agree on contentious bills, the dominant group had often tried to pass them unilaterally and minority parties resorted to physical means to block the moves, such as occupying the assembly chamber or the Speaker’s chair.

Korea’s 299-seat unicameral parliament is dominated by the conservative governing GNP, which controls an absolute majority of 169 seats. The largest opposition DP holds 87 seats, followed by far-right Liberty Forward Party at 16, the rightist Future Hope Alliance at 8 and the far-left Democratic Labor Party at 6.

Monday’s meeting also worked out a measure to avoid delay in the passage of the nation’s budget plan. A budget bill will be automatically referred to the parliament’s plenary session on Dec. 2, the deadline set by the Constitution.

The Assembly failed to meet the deadline for 8th straight year in 2010. The Constitution stipulates that the Assembly shall pass the governmental spending bill by Dec. 2 to allow 30 days of preparation for its execution.

Rival parties agreed to push for the enactment of the new rules in September, so that they can go into effect for the 19th parliament to be formed by general elections next year.

By Lee Sun-young (