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(LEAD) Parliament kicks off extra session

All Headlines 15:12 February 01, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with details throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's National Assembly opened a one-month extraordinary session Wednesday to deal with a range of controversial issues, including lowering the minimum voting age.

Party representatives will deliver speeches starting Thursday. Plenary sessions are scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 2.

National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun urged lawmakers to speed up efforts in passing economy-related laws to revitalize the national economy.

"The parliament is responsible for reducing uncertainties," Chung said in his opening speech. "Under the four-party system, dialogue and compromise are more important than ever."

The Bareun Party had spun off from the ruling Saenuri Party last month following a factional feud, which increased the number of negotiation bodies at the National Assembly to four.

Chung highlighted that parliament should make preparations to cope with uncertainties sparked by the new U.S. administration led by Donald Trump.

"We also have to focus on improving the relationship with China and Japan, which are currently facing deadlocks," Chung said.

Seoul has been at odds with Beijing on the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in the country. Its relationship with Tokyo also has been icy, especially surrounding Japan's enslavement of Korean women during its colonial rule and territorial claims.

Along with the issues, pundits said the voting age may figure prominently in the extra session as the proposed change could influence the results of the upcoming presidential election, which will be held earlier than expected if the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye is confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Park was impeached by parliament in December over allegations of corruption surrounding her and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

If the opposition parties' proposal to lower the minimum voting age by a year to 18 is implemented, it would increase the number of eligible voters by some 610,000.

As younger voters are normally more supportive of liberal candidates, the conservative bloc has been reluctant to accept the proposal.

Failure to win support from conservatives in parliament will effectively block the passage of the voting age motion. The passage of bills dealing with voting have invariably involved approval of all sides.

The National Assembly in Seoul, (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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