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[Editorial] A brake on government

DP bill would effectively compel administration to modify decrees if asked by standing committees

June 15, 2022 - 05:31 By Korea Herald
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea proposed a bill that will strengthen the National Assembly’s control of government decrees.

The proposed revisions to the National Assembly Act were authored by Cho Eung-cheon, a lawmaker from the party. It would allow standing committees of the Assembly to request relevant administrative agencies modify or revise their decrees and enforcement ordinances if the Assembly judges them inconsistent with the purpose of laws.

If asked to modify decrees, heads of agencies would have to deliver to the National Assembly reports of processing these requests.

The new bill indicates the party’s intention to control the behavior of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration more directly.

Under the existing National Assembly Act, the Assembly reviews the illegality of decrees and ordinances and notifies related agencies of the result of the review. Related agencies then decide whether to follow the request or not.

If this notification process is replaced with requests from the Assembly for modifications, and a requirement to report on the results, the government will be compelled to act as requested by standing committees.

The Yoon administration was inaugurated at a time when the Democratic Party dominated the National Assembly. One way to conduct state affairs swiftly and smoothly under these circumstances is to exercise its authority to issue decrees and ordinances. The Democratic Party is effectively seeking to block this route.

The current constitution stipulates that, while trials are held to decide if a decree is lawful, the final authority lies with the Supreme Court. This indicates that any discrepancies between laws and decrees must be resolved according to a judgment by the judicial branch.

The government may well base its major policies on laws. Its actions must not break out of the statutory boundary.

However, if the National Assembly more directly controls the acts of the executive branch, then it jeopardizes the separation of the three branches of government -- administrative, legislative and judicial powers -- as well as any related constitutional clauses.

If the Assembly finds a decree or ordinance to be unlawful, all it has to do to rectify the error is to revise the law or specify it in more detail, in compliance with the principle of the separation of powers.

If a party with an absolute majority ignores this procedure and tries to control the executive branch by mandating decree modification, it will fuel concerns of the legislative branch acting dictatorially.

After winning the general elections with a landslide two years ago, the Democratic Party pushed bills through with ease. After losing the presidential election, the party unilaterally passed bills that would strip the prosecution of its authority to investigate. More than 60 percent of the Korean public opposed the bills but were ignored. The bills were touted as reforms, but many view them as an attempt to block investigations into allegations surrounding presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and those around then-President Moon Jae-in.

The party also impacted the makeup of Yoon’s Cabinet by delaying the parliamentary confirmation of Prime Minister Nominee Han Duck-soo.

It overturned its promise to let a member of the People Power Party chair the legislation-judiciary committee during the second half of the Assembly‘s term. When it comes to legislative procedures, the party wants to have absolute control by holding two influential posts -- the Speaker of the Assembly and the chair of the committee.

The Democratic Party’s defeat in both local and presidential elections indicates a shift in voters’ feelings about the party that just two years ago was handed an overwhelming electoral victory.

If the Democratic Party passes the bill in question unilaterally, Yoon will likely veto it. About a month has passed since the new government took over, amid a set of difficult diplomatic and economic problems. The Democratic Party must consider the shift in popular opinion before pushing to revise the National Assembly Act.