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(2nd LD) Ruling, opposition parties remain deadlocked on speaker's neutrality controversy

All News 15:10 September 28, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS parliamentary speaker's quote in para 8-12)

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ruling and opposition parties remained deadlocked on Wednesday amid criticism that National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun failed to maintain his political neutrality, paralyzing the ongoing regular audit session.

The ruling Saenuri Party has refused to take part in parliamentary proceedings with its head Rep. Lee Jung-hyun staging a hunger protest, demanding that Chung step down from his post.

The deadlock came after Chung expressed apparent support for the opposition bloc's push to pass a motion to sack a Cabinet minister over alleged ethical lapses, while the ruling party boycotted the vote and walked out of the session.

Chung, who is originally from the Minjoo Party of Korea, fueled the debate when he was heard in a voice recording saying that the ruling party should not "ask for something for free," indicating the speaker may have wanted to utilize the dismissal motion to induce Saenuri to make concessions on other issues that are important to the opposition.

Due to the stalemate, the 20-day regular audit, which started on Monday, is currently facing hurdles, especially in committees headed by ruling party lawmakers.

"I will not sit idle in the face of the collapse of democracy and the parliamentary system established by the people," Lee said, adding he will only end the strike when Chung resigns.

The party chief claimed the opposition is currently trying to fuel confusion and shake the Park Geun-hye administration ahead of next year's presidential race.

Chung, however, said he has no intention of making an apology.

"It is the obligation of the parliamentary speaker to follow the National Assembly law," Chung told foreign correspondents in Seoul on Wednesday, adding the motion was legitimate and he has nothing more to comment on the ruling party's claim.

"National Assembly Speakers can make political remarks at the appropriate time, as they are not some kind of robot," Chung added concerning the controversy over his neutrality.

The speaker also said anyone violating the parliamentary law or the Constitution must be punished, but he does not agree that he violated any rules.

Chung then said it is regrettable that regular audit session has been paralyzed by the latest political wrangling.

The opposition bloc urged Lee to end his hunger strike and the ruling party to resume its duties.

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the floor leader of the Minjoo, said he is "dumbfounded" by Lee's hunger strike, adding it is the opposition bloc that should be angered by the president's veto of the dismissal motion.

"I cannot understand the ruling party's anger, as it is the opposition parties that should be furious," Woo said, adding that Lee should try to pave way for negotiations.

Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, head of the ruling Saenuri Party (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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