Democracy in crisis
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Monday appointed the heads of 18 standing committees of the 21st National Assembly -- excluding the Intelligence Committee -- with its own members. After winning a super majority of 176 seats in the 300-member Assembly in the April 15 parliamentary election, the DP pressed ahead. The main opposition with 104 seats boycotted the vote to assign chairpersons of the committees. It is the first time since the ruling party of the Chun Doo Hwan regime swept all of the 18 standing committees in the 12th National Assembly in the 1980s.
It is shocking that the new National Assembly convened after the DP's overwhelming domination of the standing committees. The ruling party not only disappointed the public's expectation of a harmonious legislature but also disgraced the integrity of the National Assembly.
The primary responsibility surrounding the alarming development falls on the arrogant ruling party. Traditionally, opposition parties took the posts of two chairpersons of the Legislation, Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts to help opposition parties check the government, but the DP unilaterally declared to take those posts too. It is ironic that the winner-take-all principle reminiscent of the military dictatorship is being repeated under the current government led by former democracy fighters.
The heads of standing committees have been determined by the number of each party's seats over the past 30 years since the 1987 Democratization. Despite a majority of seats gained by ruling parties in 2004, 2008 and 2012, they did not control all 18 standing committees. When it was an opposition, the DP strongly called for the distribution of chairperson posts based on the number of seats. We wonder why the ruling party is headed in the opposite direction this time.
Domineering attitudes of the DP herald a strong backlash from the main opposition United Future Party (UFP). Rep. Chung Jin-suk, a five-term lawmaker of the UFP, declared he would not assume the post of deputy speaker of the Assembly to protest the "unheard of anti-democratic tyranny of the ruling party" even though he is supposed to take the post. Even the Justice Party, a leftist splinter party, boycotted the vote.
Korea is battling an extraordinary crisis as it copes with the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, the economy is suffering from negative growth and unparalleled unemployment. The inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations are deteriorating without any blueprint for denuclearization of the North, and real estate prices are soaring. The time has come for the DP to find effective ways to cooperate with the UFP if it does not want to push the nation into a bigger crisis.