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New Assembly begins term, ruling party leader calls for opposition cooperation

Ruling Democratic Party floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon (center) speaks during a press confence held at the National Assembly, Sunday. (Yonhap)
Ruling Democratic Party floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon (center) speaks during a press confence held at the National Assembly, Sunday. (Yonhap)

The new parliament, now heavily tilted to the left, began its four-year term Saturday, with a full plate of work amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

And ruling Democratic Party of Korea Floor Leader Kim Tae-nyeon on Sunday called on opposition parties for cooperation to allow the 21st National Assembly to set out to handle pandemic-related legislation swiftly.

“The Democratic Party will open the National Assembly on June 5 to pick the speaker and deputy speaker of the assembly,” Kim said during a press conference.

By law, the first extraordinary session of the Assembly ought to take place in the first seven days of its four-year term, but the deadline has often been missed in past years, mostly due to partisan wrangling over who should lead the Assembly’s standing committees.

The same issue hangs heavily over the new, unicameral parliament.

The main opposition United Future Party is concerned that the liberal group, which secured 177 seats in the 300-member chamber in last month’s general election, may take all the committee chairmanships after the ruling faction’s six-term lawmaker Rep. Park Byeong-seug is officially appointed as the Assembly’s speaker.

“I hope that the United Future Party cooperates and understands that the opening (date of the new National Assembly) is not negotiable,” Kim said, adding that dialogue between the two parties on the selection of committee chairmanships can continue after the first extraordinary session.

The ruling party group seeks to further strengthen its grip by securing leadership of as many committees as possible, while the conservative party wants to chair key committees such as the Legislation and Judiciary Committee and Special Committee on Budget and Accounts.

Kim has repeatedly stressed that the new parliament will have no time to waste on unnecessary bickering, as pressing issues such as a review of the third supplementary budget bill await approval. It is also an effort to not to follow in the footsteps of the previous Assembly, which had been branded by some as “the worst in history” because of its low bill processing rate.

He said a third extra budget, which is expected to involve around 30 trillion won to 40 trillion won ($24 billion-$32 billion) of spending, should be approved by the end of June. The bill to elevate the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the tentatively named Disease Control and Prevention Administration to increase its expertise and independence also needs swift approval, he added.

Meanwhile, minor Justice Party leader Sim Sang-jeung said Sunday the importance of individual dignity and secure livelihoods will be the party’s focal point.

“The Justice Party’s core task during the 21st National Assembly is protecting lives of people that are collapsing due to COVID-19. We will concentrate on setting up employment and income security policies in order to stop inequality and polarization,” she said.

By Park Han-na (