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(LEAD) Assembly convenes to deal with election, prosecution bills

Politics 21:52 December 23, 2019

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

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly convened a plenary session late Monday to deal with pending bills including contentious proposals on new electoral rules and a prosecution overhaul amid fierce protests from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).

Earlier in the day, the ruling Democratic Party (DP), three minor parties and one splinter group reached a final agreement on the details of fast-tracked bills, moving a step closer to putting them to votes.

Before the session began, the LKP filed for a filibuster on all bills to be tabled and submitted its own revision bills on tax and other issues in its latest attempt to delay votes on the fast-tracked pieces of legislation.

Speaker Moon Hee-sang went ahead with the full-house meeting and put to vote a bill on the extraordinary session's duration, dismissing the LKP's request for a filibuster. Lawmakers other than LKP members voted to pass the bill under which the extra session will end on Wednesday.

Moon later introduced a bill to revise parliamentary election rules.

As for the electoral reform bill, the main bone of contention was how to introduce a mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system ahead of the April 15 general elections.

Lawmakers from South Korea's main opposition Liberty Korea Party protest as Speaker Moon Hee-sang (C, behind podium) presides over a plenary session to deal with contentious bills to revise electoral rules and overhaul the prosecution at the main chamber of the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 23, 2019. (Yonhap)

Under the deal, the number of directly elected seats and proportional representation (PR) slots will be kept at 253 and 47, respectively, in the 300-member National Assembly.

The number of PR posts to be allocated under the MMP representation scheme will be capped at 30.

The existing single-member district system has contributed to advancing South Korea's democracy. But it has also generated many dead votes and has mostly benefited two large parties, aggravating deeply rooted regionalism.

In the MMP representation system, parliamentary seats are tied to the percentage of voters' support for political parties.

Smaller parties voiced support for introducing the new PR system to increase their presence in South Korean politics.

Monday's deal also did not include a contentious proposal to adopt a new election rule that allows a candidate to run for both a directly elected parliamentary seat and a PR slot.

The system permits a candidate who loses an election by a thin margin to get a PR seat. The three minor parties and one fringe group wanted the new rule, claiming that it will help root out regionalism.

But the DP opposed the proposal, voicing concerns that the system could be misused to ensure parliamentary seats for multiple-term lawmakers.

In April, the DP and the three minor parties -- the minor conservative Bareunmirae Party, the liberal Party for Democracy and Peace and the progressive Justice Party -- reached a tentative deal on electoral reform.

Monday's deal backpedaled from the April agreement, under which the number of PR slots would have been raised to 75. It also scaled back from the parties' attempt to raise the number of PR seats to 50.

The prosecution reform bill centers on establishing a separate unit to probe alleged corruption by high-ranking public officials and giving more investigative power to police.

For the DP, it is politically burdensome to push for electoral reform without the participation of the LKP. But the governing party appears to have set the goal to cement cooperation with other minor parties.

The LKP called its rivals' agreement political collusion, vowing to deter the parliamentary passage of the measures.

The chiefs of three minor parties and one splinter group announce their deal on electoral reform at the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 23, 2019. (Yonhap)


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