(ATTN: UPDATES with main opposition party's protest, other details in last 7 paras)
SEOUL, April 25 (Yonhap) -- National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang on Thursday approved a minor opposition party's plan to replace its member on the special parliamentary committee on judiciary reform, a crucial move in efforts to fast-track a relevant bill.
Earlier in the day, the center-right Bareunmirae Party sent a document by fax to Moon suggesting Rep. Oh Shin-hwan be replaced by his party colleague Rep. Chae Yi-bae as a member of the committee.
Moon signed it without hesitation while in bed, as he was hospitalized for hypoglycemia-caused shock a day earlier following a verbal battle with protesting lawmakers of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
In a package deal that excludes the LKP, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three minor opposition parties, including Bareunmirae, agreed Monday to expedite the handling of three bills on electoral reform, creating an independent probe unit on corruption by high-ranking government officials and adjusting the investigative and indictment authority of the police and prosecution.
But the National Assembly descended into chaos two days later after Oh declared he would vote against the fast-tracking of the investigative unit bill.
Oh's stance on the matter was apparently critical in the panel, as he held a de-facto casting vote -- the LKP has seven out of the panel's 18 members, and consent from 11 of them is needed to put the bill on the fast track.
Bareunmirae's decision reflects a sharp internal rift amid growing doubts about its future.
Created in early 2018 in a merger of the centrist People's Party and the center-right Bareun Party, it has 29 seats at the 300-member National Assembly, and its two main factions are still at odds with each other.
Observers predict that some or many of its members will leave the party in the course of a shift in the political landscape expected in advance of the general elections slated for April 15, 2020.
The LKP's lawmakers and their staff, meanwhile, have sought to block the entrance to the related committees' conference rooms in a bid to stave off the fast-tracking of the reform bills, raising concerns about a physical clash with members of the ruling and other opposition parties.
"The LKP can no longer budge, as the basic frame of the nation is breaking off," Na Kyung-won, the party's floor leader, said. "(We) will fight until the last."
The ruling party condemned the LKP's move.
"It's turning the National Assembly into a mess," Cho Jung-sik, its policy chief, said, urging the LKP to offer a public apology immediately for this.
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