Rep. Kweon Seong-dong (center), floor leader of the ruling People Power Party, is on his way to attend a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s conservative People Power Party has become the ruling political party as of Tuesday with President Yoon Suk-yeol starting his five-year term, but the party faces a steep uphill battle at the parliament with weak legislative power and comparatively small foothold.
The People Power Party is outnumbered and essentially has no power to push any legislative agenda on its own. It was only since last year that the conservative party recovered enough to start staging comebacks in critical elections, paring back losses over the past five years.
At the moment, the People Power Party controls 109 out of 300 seats at the National Assembly, and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has almost absolute power in the parliament by controlling 168 seats. When combining forces with other Democratic Party-friendly legislators, the liberal party can control as many as 175 seats.
With incomparably small foothold, the People Power Party has no choice but to request for help and cooperation from the Democratic Party in trying to fulfill the initiatives set by the Yoon administration, but the liberal party has been anything but accommodating in recent weeks.
The Democratic Party has deliberately sought to delay the confirmation procedures for a number of Yoon’s Cabinet picks with rigorous checks on ministerial nominees.
Yoon started his presidential term Tuesday with only seven ministers whose confirmation hearings ended successfully with reports signed and sealed by the National Assembly. Confirmation processes are still underway for the prime minister nominee and 11 other ministerial nominees.
The Democratic Party has especially opposed the appointment of Yoon’s Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo and Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon, threatening to use its parliamentary dominance to prevent any nominees it deems unqualified from serving in the Cabinet.
In South Korea, the prime minister is the only Cabinet post that requires parliamentary approval, and the president can appoint figures for any other ministerial posts without gaining approval from the legislative branch.
The Democratic Party has also vocally opposed the Yoon administration’s move to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which requires revisions to the Government Organization Act to be discussed and approved at the National Assembly.
Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, floor leader of the People Power Party, submitted a bill on the matter last week, but the Democratic Party has doubled down on keeping the ministry intact.
The main opposition party has certainly shown the public what it’s capable of when it’s determined. It unilaterally passed two controversial bills on stripping investigative powers from the prosecution.
Late last month, the Democratic Party used its majority power in the parliament to forcefully shut down filibuster attempts from the People Power Party so it could stage new provisional assembly sessions and put the proposed revisions to the Prosecutors’ Office Act and the Criminal Procedure Act to a final vote.
The two bills were promulgated into official law at former President Moon Jae-in’s last Cabinet meeting on May 3.
The People Power Party is determined to rely on public opinion as its power in waging legislative negotiations, believing that the Democratic Party would also fear public backlash if it wants to stay put in elections and maintain their threshold.
“To overcome this situation of being a party with the minority government, I will have the public opinion stay on our side,” Kweon said upon winning the floor leader election on April 8.
“I will correctly analyze the reason behind our party’s victory in the presidential election while consistently pursuing the core campaign promises that were welcomed by the people and fulfilling them as real outcomes.”
The People Power Party insisted the Democratic Party work toward unity and cooperation upon the Yoon administration’s launch, saying the people should not be hurt from the “haughtiness and self-complacency” of the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party has received a cold ruling from the people in the presidential election and should be on course to stay in line with public sentiment,” Rep. Kim Hyung-dong, a spokesperson for the People Power Party, said in a statement Tuesday.
“But it has shown no regrets and is weaponizing its dominance in terms of number of legislative seats to continue its politics of haughtiness and self-complacency.”
Yet the party’s first attempt to rely on public opinion ended unsuccessful, as the liberal party bulldozed its prosecution reform drive without consideration of the public acceptance. The conservative party asked the liberal party to reconsider, as the public is not too receptive of the bills under discussion.
According to a Realmeter poll of 1,017 adults conducted on April 13, 52.1 percent of respondents said they were opposed to completely stripping investigative powers from the prosecution, as opposed to 38.2 percent who agreed the move should be put into place.
Backed by Yoon’s vocal opposition to the initiative, Kweon and his party proposed to hold a national referendum on the prosecution reform on the sidelines of the June 1 local elections, but the Democratic Party ignored the suggestion and used its legislative majority to pass both bills.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org