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Self-serving representatives

By Kang Hyun-kyung

The National Assembly interpellation session held Monday turned into a state-sponsored farce.

Some ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmakers tried hard to defend ― not criticize ― the embattled Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who is accused of abuse of power ― as the former head of the party ― to help her son illicitly extend his leave of absence from the military back in 2016, among other allegations.

I was curious about the motives behind their coordinated endeavors to save the troubled Choo, who has angered the public due to a series of allegations, while watching the session on YouTube.

How could the ruling party lawmakers turn their back on voters, who were simmering with anger over the justice minister, and act like they knew nothing about the worsening public opinion which has already dealt a blow to President Moon Jae-in's approval ratings?

What they did was insane; it was even worse than a farce.

A farce is hilarious, gives its audiences laughter and satisfaction as it mocks corrupt politicians and greedy business tycoons.

The reality show in the Assembly, however, lacked any of this.

Unlike a farce, the Assembly reality show is free of charge and people can watch the video whenever they want to see. But in other factual respects, it is much more expensive than paying to see a satire or a farce. The interpellation session is "state-sponsored" as it is operated using the taxpayers' money.

Lawmakers enjoy lots of perks and financial benefits. Their pay and benefits come from taxpayers' money. This is because, in a democratic country like South Korea, legislators are expected to serve as the representatives of the voters who elected them.

As seen in the Assembly on Monday, however, the people's representatives more often than not prioritize their own personal gain, such as partisan interests, ahead of their prime mission ― working for the betterment of those who elected them; the taxpayers. If lawmakers underperform or don't perform their duties as representatives of the voters who are the taxpayers, the latter suffer.

Monday was another day when the National Assembly was gripped by insanity.

Rep. Jung Chung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) pointed his finger at unspecified "right-wing" prosecutors and military brass for creating and spreading a conspiracy theory about the justice minister. The allegations Choo is facing are the result of smear politics of the supporters of former President Park Geun-hye, he alleged. "It's a political plot and rebellion," he insisted during the interpellation session. He tried to get confirmation about his observation from Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, telling him that he himself believed what Choo's son did when he extended his leave of absence via telephone was not against military regulations and protocol, asking if the prime minister agreed him. Chung said yes, noting he trusted the military's report on Choo's son.

Another DPK lawmaker Kim Jong-min performed a one-man show. He took advantage of his turn at the session to make a case for the justice minister, ignoring internal rules on how the interpellation is run.

Citing inaccurate data about the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers' average days of leave of absence, Kim claimed the total days Choo's son took was shorter than the average. In fact, Choo's son, identified only by his family name Seo, turned out to have taken more days off during his military service.

The DPK lawmaker didn't pose questions to any Cabinet ministers, including Choo, who were present and spent his time in a tirade defending the justice minister. National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seog warned him about breaking rules, reminding Kim gently what the National Assembly interpellation session was supposed to be about.

"It's for a one-on-one session between a lawmaker and a Cabinet member," Park said as Kim was leaving the floor after his long speech.

Rather than trying hard to make their constituents' voices heard, the representatives are preoccupied with ways that can guarantee their next term. Following partisan interest at the expense of voters' voices seems to be the consequence of a democracy that lacks institutional devices to punish irresponsive representatives.

The tragedy for voters and their representatives seems inevitable under the current election system as there is no realistic way that can help voters flex their muscles to bring self-serving representatives down once an election is over. Voters are empowered only on election day.


By Kang Hyun-kyung

The National Assembly interpellation session held Monday turned into a state-sponsored farce.

Some ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmakers tried hard to defend ― not criticize ― the embattled Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who is accused of abuse of power ― as the former head of the party ― to help her son illicitly extend his leave of absence from the military back in 2016, among other allegations.

I was curious about the motives behind their coordinated endeavors to save the troubled Choo, who has angered the public due to a series of allegations, while watching the session on YouTube.

How could the ruling party lawmakers turn their back on voters, who were simmering with anger over the justice minister, and act like they knew nothing about the worsening public opinion which has already dealt a blow to President Moon Jae-in's approval ratings?

What they did was insane; it was even worse than a farce.

A farce is hilarious, gives its audiences laughter and satisfaction as it mocks corrupt politicians and greedy business tycoons.

The reality show in the Assembly, however, lacked any of this.

Unlike a farce, the Assembly reality show is free of charge and people can watch the video whenever they want to see. But in other factual respects, it is much more expensive than paying to see a satire or a farce. The interpellation session is "state-sponsored" as it is operated using the taxpayers' money.

Lawmakers enjoy lots of perks and financial benefits. Their pay and benefits come from taxpayers' money. This is because, in a democratic country like South Korea, legislators are expected to serve as the representatives of the voters who elected them.

As seen in the Assembly on Monday, however, the people's representatives more often than not prioritize their own personal gain, such as partisan interests, ahead of their prime mission ― working for the betterment of those who elected them; the taxpayers. If lawmakers underperform or don't perform their duties as representatives of the voters who are the taxpayers, the latter suffer.

Monday was another day when the National Assembly was gripped by insanity.

Rep. Jung Chung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) pointed his finger at unspecified "right-wing" prosecutors and military brass for creating and spreading a conspiracy theory about the justice minister. The allegations Choo is facing are the result of smear politics of the supporters of former President Park Geun-hye, he alleged. "It's a political plot and rebellion," he insisted during the interpellation session. He tried to get confirmation about his observation from Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, telling him that he himself believed what Choo's son did when he extended his leave of absence via telephone was not against military regulations and protocol, asking if the prime minister agreed him. Chung said yes, noting he trusted the military's report on Choo's son.

Another DPK lawmaker Kim Jong-min performed a one-man show. He took advantage of his turn at the session to make a case for the justice minister, ignoring internal rules on how the interpellation is run.

Citing inaccurate data about the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers' average days of leave of absence, Kim claimed the total days Choo's son took was shorter than the average. In fact, Choo's son, identified only by his family name Seo, turned out to have taken more days off during his military service.

The DPK lawmaker didn't pose questions to any Cabinet ministers, including Choo, who were present and spent his time in a tirade defending the justice minister. National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seog warned him about breaking rules, reminding Kim gently what the National Assembly interpellation session was supposed to be about.

"It's for a one-on-one session between a lawmaker and a Cabinet member," Park said as Kim was leaving the floor after his long speech.

Rather than trying hard to make their constituents' voices heard, the representatives are preoccupied with ways that can guarantee their next term. Following partisan interest at the expense of voters' voices seems to be the consequence of a democracy that lacks institutional devices to punish irresponsive representatives.

The tragedy for voters and their representatives seems inevitable under the current election system as there is no realistic way that can help voters flex their muscles to bring self-serving representatives down once an election is over. Voters are empowered only on election day.


Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@koreatimes.co.kr


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