Published : 2013-03-08 19:33
Updated : 2013-03-08 19:33
President Park Geun-hye’s proposal to establish new ministries and make other changes to the organization of government agencies is mired in protracted negations between the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party. Her repeated appeal to the National Assembly to promptly pass the underlying bill has fallen on deaf ears.
The ruling party, with 153 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, finds itself languishing over the lack of progress in its talks with the opposition party, which has 127 seats. Many of those who have watched the ruling party railroad controversial bills frequently in the past may wonder if it is the same Saenuri Party.
But a new rule makes it much more difficult to force contentious bills through. Under a law enacted last May, the speaker of the National Assembly needs approval from three-fifths or more of its members if he is to bring a bill from the committee where it is stuck in an endless deliberation process and put it to a vote in a plenary session. Exceptions are permitted only when national emergencies are declared over a natural disaster, war or warlike upheaval into which the nation is drawn.
Against this backdrop, the Saenuri Party proposed Thursday to the Democratic United Party to put the government reorganization bill to an Assembly vote, only to be rebuffed. In making the futile attempt, did it intend to show to an impatient President Park that it was doing something, instead of standing idly by, or to get the upper hand in the court of public opinion? Either way, it gained little.
As the ruling party says, it is sandwiched between a demanding president and an unyielding opposition. Yet, it is in no position to complain. Instead it needs to acknowledge that it was ill prepared when it started negotiations with the opposition.
It is a matter of course for the opposition to try to get the most out of the change in the lawmaking process. It was the ruling party’s mistake if it did not take this into account. The party should have cleared with the president the rules of engagement with the opposition and agreed on what concessions it could make.
In the absence of such a modus operandi, the presidential office is pushing for the bill’s passage while banning the ruling party from making any concession. In response, one senior party official was quoted as saying that the president is seeking to place herself above the legislature and boss the party around. Another party official accused the ruling party of having few negotiating skills and the opposition of trying to trip the president up.
The opposition complained that negotiators were sent back to square one when the presidential office vetoed the compromises that had been made. Rep. Moon Hee-sang, opposition leader, demanded President Park respect the National Assembly’s lawmaking authority and accept bipartisan compromises, instead of insisting on keeping the bill intact.
Indeed, it has not been unusual in the past for the president to overturn a bipartisan accord on a bill and call on the ruling party, which was at his beck and call, to ram the bill in its original form through the National Assembly, turning the floor of its main hall into a battlefield. It was such a collision course that the rival parties wanted to avoid when they tightened the rule on bypassing a committee to put a bill of contention to a vote in a plenary session.
The law is living up to their expectations. But the downside is a protracted impasse, as is the case now, to the chagrin of lawmakers affiliated with the ruling party. It is still near impossible at the moment for the ruling party to revise the law in their favor. Here again, it falls far short of the number of lawmakers whose endorsement is needed to fast-track an opposition-boycotted bill.
Now an alternative to the ruling party is to live with the law, at least until after it gains enough National Assembly seats when the next general election comes around. In the meantime, it needs to establish a modus operandi on National Assembly operations with the president. At the same time, the president should be reminded, if her memory is short, that the law was enacted with her blessing when she headed the ruling party.