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(News Focus) Saenuri, Minjoo seek balance through new parliamentary formation

All News 15:10 June 09, 2016

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, June 9 (Yonhap) -- The latest agreement reached by ruling and opposition parties on parliamentary formation has paved the way for them to seek balance at the 20th National Assembly, with each party securing gains in compensation to their losses, political pundits said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the ruling Saenuri Party decided to allow the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea to pick the National Assembly speaker. This issue has been a major holdup on the discussion of the parliamentary formation as the speaker holds a symbolic role among lawmakers.

In South Korea, the speaker is considered to be the No. 2 person after president when it comes to state protocols, and can also exercise an ex officio proposal in the parliament. Although the speaker must leave his or her party during the term, they tend to be more receptive to bills from their original party.

The Minjoo Party tapped Chung Sye-kyun, a six-term lawmaker, as the speaker for the 20th National Assembly on Thursday. Saenuri and the minor People's Party took the two vice speaker posts.

Saenuri and Minjoo have been fighting over the speaker post, especially as the April 13 election showed no concrete winner. Saenuri won 122 seats compared to the Minjoo's 123 in the 300-seat unicameral parliament with the rest being taken by minor parties and independents.

The ruling party claimed it should take the speaker position in line with tradition, while the main opposition countered that the No. 1 party in terms of lawmakers should have priority in picking the speaker.

While the dispute had showed no progress through Tuesday, Saenuri decided to yield the post to its rival the following day amid rising public anger over the delay in parliamentary formation.

Political watchers pointed out that the move is not necessarily a loss for Saenuri, as it won points in the eyes of the public by making the move to break the deadlock.

Saenuri also won the chairmanships of the house steering, legislation and judiciary committees.

It, moreover, won the finance, national policy, administration, science, intelligence and defense committees, which have traditionally been held by the ruling party.

The steering committee also oversees the presidential office, while the legislation committee is considered to be the last stop for all bills discussed at the parliament. Accordingly, the two posts are considered critical for a party to take the upper hand in parliament.

"As can be seen in the past when the opposition held the chairmanship, Saenuri's control of the legislation committee means it can hold onto any bill it does not want sent to the plenary session," an observer said.

Minjoo had been eying both house steering and legislation committees, adding it should take the chairmanship of the two as well as the speaker's post to reflect its "victory" in the April election.

While some members of Minjoo were disappointed by the agreement, observers said it was not all too bad for the main opposition, as it still secured the speaker and the chairmanship of the budget and accounts committee, another key position in parliamentary affairs.

Others said that the biggest gain for Minjoo is that it clearly reflected the result of the April election by holding the gavel of the 20th National Assembly.

The main opposition also took the chairmanship of the labor, foreign affairs, welfare, transport, agriculture, gender equality and ethics committees.

With the presidential election slated for next year, experts say Minjoo's control of certain committees can weigh down on the ruling party's ambition to hold onto power and even pose challenges to President Park Geun-hye.

In particular, Minjoo is expected to push for more investigation into the Sewol ferry sinking on April 16, 2014, that left more than 300 dead. Opposition parties and other progressive factions have claimed that Park should be held responsible for failing to prevent the accident and the botched rescue of passengers, many of whom were students.

Minjoo's chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee also paves the way for the opposition to lead inter-Korean issues. The tension between the two Koreas has been rising this year after Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January and the firing off of a long-range missile the following month.

The splinter People's Party also gained a foothold by being able to exert its policies in future parliamentary process. It took the chair of education and trade committees, also considered important in influencing state policy.

The trade committee oversees industrial development projects, which can play a crucial role in hosting businesses for South Jeolla Province, a region that played a critical role in making the splinter of Minjoo as the No. 3 player in the parliament.

colin@yna.co.kr
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