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(2nd LD) Parliament unlikely to pass annual budget on time for 11th year in a row

All Headlines 15:01 December 01, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments on plans to push forward the budget in paras 8-12)

SEOUL, Dec. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's National Assembly is unlikely to pass next year's annual budget as prescribed by law for the 11th year in a row, as parties are locked in bitter political wrangling over a host of issues, observers said Sunday.

The legal deadline set by the Constitution for the passage the 2014 budget falls on Monday, but there seems to be little hope of the spending plan being approved, with fears mounting that Seoul may have to draw a provisional budget for the first time in history.

The impasse comes as the ruling Saenuri Party unilaterally voted to approve President Park Geun-hye's nominee for the country's chief auditor post last week, despite opposition from the Democratic Party (DP).

The DP has since vowed to boycott all parliamentary proceedings, with its leader Rep. Kim Han-gil staking his post with the party's stance on the issue. The party said it will pursue a motion calling for the resignation of the parliamentary speaker for allowing the vote appointing the head of the Board of Audit and Inspection to take place.

The two sides are, moreover, at odds over the controversy surrounding alleged meddling in last year's presidential election by the country's spy agency, and the appointment of the health minister and prosecutor general.

The Saenuri Party has said that if the opposition does not return to the negotiating table, it will hold the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts by itself and push for its passage.

"If the DP does not return to talks, the Saenuri will take unilateral action (starting Monday)," warned party spokesman Kim Tae-heum.

This view, based on the agreement reached by leading members of the budget and account committee in mid-November before the latest conflict, has been supported by revelations that the Speaker's office had called for the budget to be reviewed on Friday.

Since the date has already passed, by law the chairman of the special committee has discharging powers to forward the budget bill so that it can be voted on at the plenary session.

"Unlike ordinary bills, the budget is not subject to the 'two-thirds' approval rule of the new National Assembly law," a party source said. The rules require at least two-third of all members of a parliamentary committee to give approval for a bill to be forwarded to the plenary session.

On the other hand, some members of the ruling party said more effort needs to be expended to at least get the DP to join deliberations in regard to the budget.

However, they conceded that the agreement reached by the two sides earlier to pass the budget on Dec. 16 has effectively become null and void with the latest boycott.

Political analysts fear that the opposition will likely take a more hardline stance, once President Park appoints the chief auditor, the health minister and chief prosecutor on Tuesday as expected.

Meanwhile, data collected by parliament's secretariat show no bill has been passed in the last three months, with no immediate indication that this will change in the near future.

"This is really a deplorable record, and if public sentiment turns sour, such developments will weigh heavily on the leadership of the rival parties," an independent political observer said. He said that despite the pressure, the two sides seem to have different agendas they want to pursue that could hold up progress being made.


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