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(2nd LD) Parliamentary plenary session opens over gov't's 2019 budget, economic bills

All News 21:52 December 07, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info, photo throughout)

SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly held a plenary session Friday to vote on a revised bill on the government's 2019 budget, with minor parties boycotting the meeting amid a row over electoral reform.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) agreed Thursday to cut fiscal spending by some 5.2 trillion won (US$4.7 billion) from the government's record 470.5 trillion-won budget bill.

But the agreement did not include a commitment to electoral reform, a key sticking point in the budget negotiations, drawing condemnation from minor parties.

The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BP) and two other smaller parties sought to link the budget bill passage to the introduction of a new proportional representation system, a proposal rejected by the DP and the LKP.

The two major parties asked the parliamentary speaker to delay a scheduled plenary session later in the day in an apparent bid to find a compromise with the minor parties. The DP holds 129 seats and the LKP has 112 posts in the 299-member parliament.

But the minor parties boycotted the meeting in which around 200 bills linked to the livelihood of ordinary people will be also handled. Friday's session is the last one before the 100-day regular parliamentary session ends Sunday.

It was uncertain whether the political parties could make a breakthrough over electoral reform before the budget bill was put to a vote.

This photo, taken on Dec. 7, 2018, shows the National Assembly holding a plenary session to handle around 200 economic bills and a revised proposal on the government's 2019 budget. (Yonhap)

The smaller parties are pushing for the introduction of a mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system in which parliamentary seats are tied to the percentage of voters' support for different parties.

They denounced the bigger rivals' agreement as political collusion to defend their vested interests.

The ruling DP and the LKP remain lukewarm toward accepting the MMP system, while minor players seek to increase their presence in the National Assembly, which is dominated by the two major parties, with the proposed scheme.

Sohn Hak-kyu, the chief of the BP, and Lee Jeong-mi, the chairwoman of the leftist Justice Party, started a hunger strike Thursday in protest.

"The two parties' budget agreement means that the DP rejects the MMP system that will aim to improve the emperor-like presidential scheme and promote parliamentary democracy," Sohn said in a hastily arranged press conference.

This year's budget review did not go smoothly amid partisan wrangling with the legal deadline for its passage expiring Sunday.

Major bones of contention in the original budget bill were an expected 4 trillion-won shortfall in tax revenue that stemmed from tax cuts and the budget set aside for inter-Korean projects and job creation.

Under Thursday's agreement, the two major parties agreed to cut some spending on job creation and inter-Korean cooperation projects and reduce the number of newly hired public servants by some 3,000.

Opposition parties took issue with 1.1 trillion won set aside for inter-Korean projects and a record 23.5 trillion won for job creation.

The parties, meanwhile, decided to increase spending on measures to tackle the low birthrate and ways to build social infrastructure.

The government said that it plans to repay debt in advance this year to fill the 4 trillion-won shortfall in tax revenue. For next year, state bond sales will be limited to 1.8 trillion won.

In 2014, the National Assembly barely made the legal deadline for the budget's passage but has failed to meet it every year since then.

Excluding last year, when a revised budget proposal was passed on Dec. 6, there have been no cases of the budget being passed days after the deadline.

This photo, taken Dec. 6, 2018, shows lawmakers from three minor parties staging a sit-in protest at the National Assembly against bigger rivals' unilateral agreement on a revised bill on the government's 2019 budget. (Yonhap)


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