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[Editorial] Abolishing privileges

Political parties should pursue bold reforms

July 1, 2016 - 17:22 By 이윤주
One positive aspect of the multiparty system created by the April general election is that political parties are under stronger pressure than before to project a pro-reform image to win support from the public.

The three major parties -- the ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition The Minjoo Party of Korea and the minor opposition The People’s Party -- are acutely aware of the growing public demand for a new political culture.

The public also demands higher ethical standards for lawmakers than before and a bold reduction of their anachronistic privileges.

So since April, the three parties have pledged to hold their lawmakers to higher standards and strip away some of their perks. Now, they have begun to put their pledges into practice.

The Reform Emergency Committee of the Saenuri Party resolved Thursday to abolish lawmakers’ immunity from arrest, a privilege that has been frequently abused to protect legislators involved in corruption.

The committee decided to revise the National Assembly Act to end the much-criticized privilege. The two opposition parties welcomed Saenuri’s move, saying that they would cooperate in hammering out reform measures that could satisfy the public.

The ruling party also decided to ban lawmakers from hiring relatives as aides and revise the law on political funds to prevent lawmakers from receiving donations from their own aides.

The party’s move was prompted by the allegations of nepotism against Rep. Seo Young-kyo. The Minjoo Party lawmaker is alleged to have hired her own daughter as an intern at her office for five months in 2014 to help her enter a law school. Seo is also accused of having recruited two of her brothers as her aides. 

The opposition party decided Thursday to impose severe disciplinary action on Seo as her misconduct sparked public anger.

Yet Seo was not alone in hiring relatives as aides. Rep. Park In-sook of the ruling party was also found to have hired a cousin as a secretary. In fact, hiring relatives as aides is a widespread practice among lawmakers. But such outdated nepotism should not be tolerated any longer.

The political parties’ reform efforts should go beyond abolishing legislators’ immunity from arrest and banning the recruitment of relatives as aides. They should amend the so-called Kim Young-ran act, a stringent anti-graft law that goes into effect in September, to make themselves subject to it.