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Parties agree to put parliamentary committees back on track

Feb. 19, 2017 - 18:22 By Jo He-rim
The four rival parties on Sunday reached an agreement to normalize the parliamentary session, ending the four-day boycott by the ruling party.

They, however, continued to stand at odds on the extension of the ongoing special investigation looking into President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

In a four-way meeting of vice floor leaders, the ruling Liberty Korea Party, its splinter Bareun Party, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and the runner-up opposition People’s Party shook hands on resuming parliamentary committee activities, starting Monday.

The floor leaders of the four opposition parties convene at the National Assembly on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Also, the four parties vowed to have key pending bills pass the floor during the February provisional session.

Their agreement is to take effect upon the ratification by the Liberty Korea Party at its general meeting on Monday.

Protesting against the recent deadlock at the parliamentary environment and labor committee, the conservative party has been staging a boycott against all standing committees since last Wednesday.

The opposition-steered committee had earlier decided to hold a series of public hearings concerning controversial issues including broadcaster MBC‘s crackdown upon its labor union -- a decision which the ruling party saw as breaking legislative procedures.

But rival camps continued to conflict on whether Prime Minister and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn should extend the ongoing special probe over President Park’s corruption scandal.

The floor leaders from four opposition parties -- the top three and the progressive minority Justice Party -- gathered at the National Assembly in the morning. This was the first of such occasion since the conservative Bareun Party broke out from the ruling Liberty Korea Party, formerly Saenuri.

“The special probe has not yet had a chance to properly investigate Park in person and an extension of the probe is inevitable. Acting President Hwang should not neglect his duty,” Rep. Kim Kwan-young of the liberal runner-up People’s Party said after their meeting.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo’s special probe team looking into the corruption scandal involving President Park and her longtime confidante Choi officially requested an extension of its investigation, which is to expire on Feb. 28 on Thursday.

Under the current law, the investigation period is limited to 90 days, which includes 20 days of preparation time. The law allows for a one-time expansion of 30 days with approval from the president. As President Park has been relieved of her presidential duties due to her impeachment, acting President Hwang holds the power to approve the expansion.

Hwang previously said he was not considering to give more time for the investigation.

“The independent counsel still has some 20 days more to go, and now is not the right time to consider its extension,” Hwang said at the parliamentary interpellation session on non-economic sectors, on Feb. 10.

The ruling conservative Liberty Korea Party, formerly Saenuri criticized the opposition bloc’s Sunday meeting, labeling it as “a political attack.”

“We basically disagree with the probe extension. Besides, the decision is up to the acting President,” Rep. Kim Seon-dong said in a press briefing later in the day.

President Park, who was impeached by the National Assembly on Dec. 9 is currently waiting for the Constitutional Court’s decision on her ouster from the presidential office.

The oppositions also discussed normalization of the National Assembly in the morning gathering after February’s extraordinary parliamentary session came to a halt due to a boycott of the ruling conservative Liberty Korea Party.

The ruling party had refused to take part on Wednesday after the Environment and Labor committee at the parliament “rushed through” several bills on Feb. 13 in the absence of both of the conservative parties.

Later in the afternoon, the lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties reached a consensus to work together to normalize the February’s parliamentary sessions.

“The opposition parties have promised to prevent any similar cases of abusing the power of majority votes. We will rediscuss about the labor committee’s rushed bills,” the ruling conservative party’s Rep. Kim said.

By Jo He-rim (