|Former Democratic Party of Korea lawmaker Keum Tae-sup stands in a party meeting at the National Assembly in this February photo. The party recently gave a disciplinary action against him for not following the party's decision to vote for a judiciary reform bill last year. /Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
During his days as a lawmaker in the recently finished 20th National Assembly, Keum Tae-sup was not a very popular member for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), as he was a deliverer of hard truths.
He locked horns with the party leadership over multiple contentious issues. He opposed a bill proposed by the party to expedite President Moon Jae-in's judiciary reform and made negative remarks regarding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk over his corruption allegations. Probably based on these conflicts, Keum failed to secure candidacy for the April 15 general election.
And it seems denying him candidacy was not enough, as the DPK has penalized the former lawmaker for abstaining from a vote on the judiciary reform bill during a National Assembly plenary session late last year. The bill was about establishing a law enforcement agency, separate from the prosecution and the police, to investigate corruption involving ranking government officials ― one of the core issues in Moon's passionate drive to reform the judiciary.
The DPK said, Monday, it held an ethics committee meeting on May 25 and reached the decision to punish Keum with a warning. This was reported to the party's undisclosed Supreme Council in a meeting on June 1.
It is rare for a party to punish a lawmaker regarding a vote at a parliamentary plenary session. The decision is drawing criticism even from members of the DPK, who cite a clause on the National Assembly Act that stipulates a lawmaker, as a representative of the people, shall vote according to his or her own conscience without being bound to the opinion of the party to which the lawmaker belongs.
"I have never seen a case where a lawmaker is penalized for voting according to his own principles during a parliamentary plenary session," DPK lawmaker Rep. Cho Eung-cheon said.
Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong said it was "true that the Democratic Party of Korea lacked democracy."
"Penalizing Keum is like penalizing the conscience and the people," Won wrote on his Facebook, Tuesday. "Not allowing a different opinion means not allowing democracy. If the DPK wants people to call it the Democratic Party, it should retract the punishment."
Keum also protested the disciplinary action, which he called unconstitutional, and demanded the party reconsider the decision for punishment. "It is certain the establishment of the agency was not thoroughly discussed within the party," he said in his Facebook. "I could not unconditionally follow the party's decision that was reached without sufficient discussions.
"The party's leadership has kept silent about the situations that the people are most interested in, such as Cho Kuk and Yoon Mee-hyang. This is not normal," he said.
But DPK chairman Lee Hae-chan stood by the decision to punish Keum. "We cannot just let it go when a party member goes against a compulsory party line. It's not like we're depriving him of party membership," Lee said during a press conference, Tuesday. "We are running the party based on democratic principles. We accept minor opinions when necessary."