Korea - Politics
2012 - Assembly and Presidential Elections
The year 2012 was the first time in two decades the legislative and presidential elections were held in the same year in a country known for its volatile political environment. South Korea's ruling conservatives scored an upset victory in a nationwide legislative election 10 April 2012. The New Frontier (Saenuri) Party, along with minor parties on the right, retained control of the National Assembly for the next four years. Economic issues, a spying scandal, and personalities outweighed national security concerns in South Korea's fiercely fought parliamentary election. An alliance of liberal parties failed to wrest control of the 300-seat National Assembly from the conservatives. The opposition attacked President Lee Myung-bak, who cannot run for re-election in December, for widening the gap between the wealthy and the underprivileged since taking office in 2008. It also criticized his administration's support for the recently ratified trade agreement with the United States. Another election issue: a still-unfolding political scandal implicating the presidential Blue House in spying on political opponents, civic groups, labor activists and journalists.
Prosecutors in Seoul issued an arrest warrant on 13 July 2013 for former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief, Won Sei-hoon late Wednesday, over bribery charges. Won is accused of receiving 150 million won or more than 130-thousand US dollars in cash, along with other materials worth thousands of dollars from a CEO of a construction firm, in return of construction order related favors. The disgraced NIS chief was immediately detained, and will face intense questioning over his next 20 days in confinement. Won had already been indicted for meddling in the 2012 presidential election. Won Sei-hoon stood trial accused of ordering NIS agents to post comments online against liberal candidates and praising conservative ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency. Hundreds of Koreans gathered over the Summers for candlelit protests against NIS abuses, and calling for the spy agency to be reformed.
On 04 September 2013, South Korea's parliament for the first time voted to prosecute one of its lawmakers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in favor of North Korea. National Intelligence Service arrested Lee Seok-ki and three other members of his Unified Progressive Party for treason and violating the National Security Law. The NIS alleges they plotted an armed rebellion against their own country in the event of war with North Korea. There has never been a case where an incumbent lawmaker was accused of plotting rebellion.
A decade earlier he was jailed for participating in an underground political party accused of having links with Pyongyang. Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but received a presidential pardon. His UPP is a small, left-wing party with only six of 298 seats in parliament. The party is one of the most outspoken advocates of removing the United States military presence from South Korea. Lee had been quoted in South Korean media saying it is the US, not North Korea, creating tensions on the peninsula.
Political discord over the legislative deadlock over a probe into the April 2014 ferry sinking suspended parliamentary affairs for months, with the victims' families demanding that the committee stated in the bill have more power in the investigation. The president, instead, said in september 2014 the second bipartisan deal on the bill, which the opposition backtracked from in August 2014, should be accepted. She also urged the National Assembly to quickly get past the ferry bill stand-off and focus on improving people's livelihoods and national safety management.
Park Young-sun of the New Politics Alliance [the main opposition bloc] to step down both as the chief of its emergency committee and as its floor leader] for Democracy on two separate occasions, reached agreements with the ruling Saenuri Party on the legislation. But both times, the compromise was met with fierce criticism from the victims' families and from within her own party. She was consequently under pressure to step down both as the chief of its emergency committee and as its floor leader. With Park Young-sun on the outs, veteran lawmakers with the opposition party had begun thinking about who her replacement should be, and called for someone who is more moderate. Whoever that next leader is will walk into a party torn apart by factionalism and infighting. The party also remained at odds with the ruling Saenuri Party at the National Assembly, which had passed zero bills in recent months because of the ferry bill stand-off.
The 153 lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party who showed up to the plenary session on 26 September 2014 did so expecting to pass some 90 pending bills, even though lawmakers of the main opposition party continued their boycott of all parliamentary proceedings. Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa adjourned the session until September 30th. The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, both parties' floor leaders finally reached an agreement 30 September 2014 the Sewol-ho ferry bill. The two parties agreed to pass the special bill by the end of October, along with a series of other anti-corruption related bills. Whether to allow the victims' families to participate in the appointment process of the state prosecutor will be discussed later on. During the plenary session, rival party lawmakers passed 91 draft bills and were able to regain their reputation as a functioning legislative body, following 150 days of not passing a single bill in the National Assembly.
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