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[Editorial] No compromise

Majority opposition party fast-tracks populist bills to plenary vote

March 28, 2023 - 05:31 By Korea Herald

The legislature should be a space where its members mediate and resolve social conflicts. But their negotiations over contentious issues are hard to watch, as only antagonism and confrontation seem to exist between the rival parties.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which holds an overwhelming majority of 169 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, is wielding its legislative power as it pleases.

The Assembly's passage of a revision to the Grain Management Act last Thursday is a case in point.

The bill requires the government to purchase all surplus rice from farmers if production exceeds estimated demand by 3-5 percent or if rice prices fall by 5-8 percent compared with the previous year.

Domestic rice consumption is on the decrease and farmers are being encouraged to grow other crops.

If implemented, however, the bill will likely discourage them from shifting to other crops. Rather it will likely incentivize them to keep growing rice without worrying about prices, and increase the burden on government finances.

In addition to warehousing costs, about 1 trillion won ($7.7 billion) a year is required to purchase surplus rice.

The bill is irresponsible and populist. It curries favor with farmers without regard to the future of agriculture and the government's financial burden.

Despite concerns about its side effects and the absence of deliberation, the bill passed the plenary session as the opposition party wanted.

The presidential office has said it will gather comments from all walks of life once it receives the bill from the Assembly, but the prevalent view is that President Yoon Suk Yeol will likely veto it considering he has expressed opposition to the bill on several occasions.

The Democratic Party has said it will push a new related bill again if the bill returns to the National Assembly. It is questionable as to whether the party is trying to shift responsibility and blame to the government. The cycle of the party’s legislation and Yoon’s inevitable veto may be repeated.

The bill was fast-tracked to the plenary vote by members of the DP and its allies in a standing committee. They skipped the legislation and judiciary committee chaired by a member of the ruling People Power Party. The fast-track was a move to prevent the bill from being stalled in the judiciary committee.

On the day when the revision to the Grain Management Act was approved, the DP fast-tracked another bill on nurses to the plenary vote, ignoring opposition from the ruling People Power Party. The bill separates nurses and related issues from the current medical law and it faces strong opposition from medical trade groups.

The Democratic Party also decided to fast-track a revised broadcasting bill. The bill will enable it to control public broadcasters such as KBS, MBC and EBS. The bill increases the number of board members of public broadcasters and empowers civic groups friendly to the Democratic Party to recommend board members.

On the back of its majority, the party is expected to send a contentious “yellow envelope law” directly to the plenary vote. The revised bill exempts labor unions and union members from lawsuits for damages caused by their illegal industrial action. Labor unions welcome the law, but it impedes Yoon’s strong drive to reform militant labor unions.

Putting bills directly to the plenary vote without sufficient discussions go against parliamentary democracy.

When lawmakers process controversial bills, they must gather opinions extensively, integrate different opinions and seek compromises. But the National Assembly fails to perform this basic function. The politics of negotiation and compromise are gone. Currently the only check on the party’s runaway legislation is the presidential veto, but it is burdensome to exercise it every time.

The Democratic Party is expected to fast-track more of its populist bills for about a year until the general elections. Now, there is no other way to stop the party's legislation tyranny.