GNP railroads KORUS FTA in surprise plenary session

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시사 영어·신문 사설·신문 기사/시사 영어(Current English)

2011. 11. 23.

GNP railroads KORUS FTA in surprise plenary session
Opposition lawmaker detonates tear gas canister in chaotic session marking the first closed-door plenary session in 15 years
» Minor opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) Lawmaker Kim Sun-dong detonates a tear gas canister just below the speaker’s seat, Nov. 22. (Courtesy of Nocut News)
By Hwang Joon-bum 


The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) held a surprise plenary session of the National Assembly on Tuesday to railroad ratification of the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) amid vehement objections from the opposition.

This marks the first time in the history of South Korean constitutional government that the ratification of an agreement with another country has been unilaterally passed by the ruling party through the speaker’s exercise of his authority to present the bill in the plenary session. Observers are predicting a standstill in political operations amid heightening partisan antagonism and criticisms from civil society.

The plenary session, held at 4 p.m. at the GNP’s request, was attended by 170 of the 295 members of the National Assembly. The ratification passed with 151 votes in favor, seven against, and 12 abstentions. Also passed were 14 additional bills necessary for the ratification’s implementation. GNP deputy speaker Chung Ui-hwa of the GNP was given moderation authority from Speaker Park Hee-tae to convene the session, and the legislation was presented on his authority and passed in the space of one hour amid fighting and shouting.

With this, the KORUS FTA achieved National Assembly passage around four years and five months after its initial signing in June 2007 and 11 months after a renegotiated version was signed on Dec. 3 of last year. The agreement goes into effect on Jan. 1 of next year.

The voting Tuesday proceeded quickly, as though in accordance with an operational plan from the GNP. The party convened its lawmakers in the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts conference room across from the main hall of the National Assembly at 2 p.m. with an announcement of plans to hold a general lawmakers’ meeting on the 2012 budget. The members then proceeded into the main hall while the meeting was under way.

Sources reported GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo and floor leader Hwang Woo-yea met Monday to discuss plans for a vote on Tuesday, steeling their determination after final negotiations between Hwang and main opposition Democratic Party (DP) floor leader Kim Jin-pyo broke down Tuesday morning.

Observers had previously predicted the ratification might be railroaded on Thursday. The passage two days sooner was seen as being based on the determination that no consensus on the passage could be achieved through prolonging the matter.

After word spread that the GNP lawmakers had entered the main hall, lawmakers from the DP and DLP entered the premises and attempted to physically block the passages. In the process, DLP Lawmaker Kim Seon-dong set off a tear gas canister at the podium below the Speaker‘s seat, sending lawmakers outside the hall in a chaotic scene.

Observers said Kim’s use of tear gas appeared to have been planned by the DLP. This marks the first time tear gas has been released in the main hall of the National Assembly.

Opposition party lawmakers shouted over Chung as he attempted to conduct the session in an effort to block the passage, but no direct physical brawling took place.

The plenary session Tuesday was conducted behind closed doors, with access to press seats blocked for journalists. Stenographic records are not kept for closed-door plenary sessions. This was the first railroading of legislation by the ruling party at a closed-door plenary session of the National Assembly since the New Korea Party and the Labor Act in December 1996.

After the ratification passed, Kim Jin-pyo said, “It was passed through a railroading without historical precedent, and is therefore invalid. We plan to file a petition with the Constitutional Court.”

Kim added, “We intend to halt all National Assembly standing committee meetings and cooperate with the four other opposition parties in a battle to renegotiate the investor-state dispute provisions and other items after a victory in the general election.”

The DP and DLP began a sit-in protest at the main hall of the National assembly to demand Chung’s resignation and protest the unilateral passage.

GNP lawmaker and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee chairman, Nam Kyung-pil, said after the passage, “the circumstances did not allow a consensus passage.”

Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) Senior Security for Public Affairs Choi Keum-rak said, “It was a difficult passage, but we think it fortunate that the KORUS FTA was ratified today.”


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