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(2nd LD) New parliament opens 1st session, but opposition boycotts voting

Politics 15:48 June 05, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more info)

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's newly elected parliament convened its first plenary session Friday, but the main opposition party walked out of the chamber briefly after the opening in protest against what it called the ruling party's "unilateral" opening of the chamber.

The first full-floor meeting of the 21st National Assembly was called after the ruling Democratic Party submitted a unilateral request for the new chamber's inaugural session earlier this week.

Lawmakers of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) showed up for the opening of the session, but all of them walked out of the chamber soon as a gesture of their protest.

"Today's meeting is not legitimate because there was no agreement between the ruling and opposition parties (over how to organize the standing committees and opening of the chamber)," UFP floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young said at the beginning of the session before the lawmakers' walkout.

"I want to make clear that our presence here is meant to show our protest, not to endorse the plenary session," he noted.

Lawmakers then voted to elect the new assembly leadership without participation from the UFP, the first time such parliamentary decisions were made in the absence of the main opposition party since 1994, according to officials.

The two rival parties are at odds over the naming of the chairmen of the chamber's 18 standing committees, as both parties want the seat in the key committee on legislation and the judiciary.

Without a bipartisan agreement over the issue, the UFP had been refusing to give its consent to the opening of the chamber, but the DP, controlling a majority share of 177 seats, successfully pushed to make it happen Friday, the legal deadline under the parliamentary act.

The main opposition party denounced it as the DP's "go-it-alone chamber opening," while the ruling party labeled the UFP boycott as "unconstitutional" and "defiant of the assembly act."

United Future Party lawmakers walk out of the chamber while the first plenary meeting of the 21st National Assembly is in session on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

Without the UFP, the DP and other minor parties present at the session formally elected Rep. Park Byeong-seug, a six-term lawmaker of the DP, as the first speaker of the assembly for a two-year term.

Two seats for the chamber's deputy speakers, reserved for the ruling and the main opposition parties, were available for voting.

But only Rep. Kim Sang-hee of the DP was elected to the post during the session held in the absence of the main opposition party.

In accordance with the parliamentary act, Park is to leave his party to serve the chairmanship as an independent lawmaker.

Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the Democratic Party delivers his acceptance speech after being elected as the first speaker of the 21st National Assembly on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

As the first one-hour plenary session ended with more than one-third of the 300-member chamber empty, the opening ceremony was put off to a later time, along with a presidential address expected for the occasion.

Taking office immediately, National Assembly Speaker Park called for a bipartisan compromise and cooperation in the interest of the country and the people.

"The (chief) standard for the 21st National Assembly should be people and national interest. ... The assembly should part with wrong customary practices and recover public trust," Park said after being elected.

But another scene of major bipartisan tension is likely soon as the DP is moving to go ahead with its plan to fix the lineup of the 18 standing committees' chairmen on Monday, with or without the UFP's participation.

"We call on the UFP to shift its position. ... The DP will form the standing committees by the (Monday) deadline as required by the law," DP floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon told reporters following the chamber session.

But the UFP remains adamant that it will not cooperate with the DP until key committee chairmen seats are given up.

The bipartisan row continues as the chamber has a major task of dealing with the government's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having proposed a new extra virus response budget of 35.3 trillion won (US$29.2 billion) to the chamber earlier this week, the government is expecting to get the final parliamentary approval for the budget before the end of June.


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