Parliament passes key economic proposals, contentious bills stalled amid opposition protest

December 9, 2020

The National Assembly on Wednesday approved a number of bills, including those related to corporate governance, police overhaul and labor reform.

But a highly contentious proposal aimed at facilitating the launch of a new investigative agency for high-profile corruption failed to pass due to objection by the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) said it will proceed with the bill Thursday when an extraordinary session opens.

More than 110 bills were passed on the last day of the regular parliamentary session.

Among them was a revision to the Commercial Act that would require listed companies to name at least one auditor from outside their board and limit the voting powers of the biggest shareholders and their families to 3 percent in the auditor’s appointment.

This photo shows a plenary session of the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 9, 2020. (Yonhap)
Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon (bottom) of the opposition People Power Party filibusters at the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 9, 2020, to prevent passage of a proposed revision to the law on the agency investigating high-profile corruption, which would undermine opposition parties' veto power in the appointment of the chief of the new body. (Yonhap)
Lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party stage a protest at the National Assembly on Dec. 9, 2020, calling for the abolishment of a proposed bill related to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials. (Yonhap)

This photo shows a plenary session of the National Assembly in Seoul on Dec. 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

Two other so-called fair economy bills were also approved — a revision to the Fair Trade Act and a new law on the supervision of financial groups.

The revised fair trade law subjects an increased number of conglomerates to stricter regulation on inter-affiliate business deals and doubles financial penalties on those that violate it.

But the ruling party dropped its initial proposal to abolish the Fair Trade Commission’s exclusive right to open an prosecution investigation on a fair trade violation case, amid protests from business circles.

The other passed bill aims to enhance regulatory requirements on conglomerates operating two or more financial arms. Major business groups, such as Samsung, Hyundai and Hanwha, will be subject to the new law.

Parliament also pushed through a major police law revision that gives police more investigative authority, introduces a local autonomous police system and allows the establishment of a national investigation office.

Lawmakers also approved a revision to the special law on the May 18 Gwangju uprising, a nationwide democracy movement that originated in the namesake southern city in 1980.

Under the legislation, those who spread false or distorted information on the historic movement face a maximum of five years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won (US$46,500).

A set of major labor-related proposals, including one allowing laid-off or jobless people to join labor unions, also got the nod, paving the way for South Korea to ratify key International Labor Organization conventions.

But three highly contentious bills failed to proceed as the main opposition PPP launched a filibuster to block their passage. The politically-loaded bills are championed by the ruling DP which holds a majority in the 300-member assembly.

Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon took the floor as the first PPP discussant to delay the voting as a bill on revising the law on a high-profile corruption investigation organ was tabled late into the plenary session.

The pending bill is designed to facilitate the launch of a new investigative body tasked with handling high-profile corruption cases.

The installation of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) is a key component of President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to reform powerful institutions, such as the state prosecution service.

PPP lawmakers have objected to the creation of the new agency over concerns its powers would be unconstitutional.

The main opposition’s filibuster automatically expired at midnight when the regular session of the National Assembly ended.

The DP plans to put the bill to vote on Thursday when an extraordinary parliamentary session kicks off.

Ahead of the session, PPP lawmakers staged a protest in front of parliament’s plenary chamber, chanting slogans and holding up placards and sign cards demanding the abolishment of the proposed CIO bill.

Two other major bills set to be challenged through filibuster are a law that would deprive the National Intelligence Service of its authority to conduct anti-communist investigations and an act that would prohibit the launching of anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border.

Further rounds of filibustering by PPP are likely to delay the voting for the remaining two bills, but the DP can break a filibuster with 180 votes, 24 hours after it began.