|Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the Democratic Party of Korea speaks to reporters in his office at the National Assembly in Seoul, Wednesday. His selection as the inaugural speaker of the 21st Assembly appears virtually assured. Yonhap|
On Wednesday, the last day for applications, the rival, Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, also of the ruling party, said he would not apply for the position now but would seek a chance in the second half of the four-year Assembly.
It has been customary for a member of the majority party to take the speaker position. The DPK and its satellite party, Civil Together, which it recently absorbed, obtained a combined 177 seats in the 300-strong Assembly in the April 15 general election.
Once officially appointed following a vote by fellow lawmakers, the speaker is obliged to leave their party and become an independent lawmaker to ensure political neutrality, according to the National Assembly Law.
Park, 68, who will soon begin his sixth term ― making him the longest serving lawmaker among all ruling and opposition lawmakers-elect ― is taking the speaker position following two failed attempts during the 20th Assembly.
Right after the April 15 election, the journalist-turned-politician said in media interviews that his goal was to reform the Assembly to enable it to regain the public's trust, with lawmakers fulfilling their duty faithfully and parties avoiding partisan strife.
Two deputy speaker positions are filled by members from the ruling and opposition blocs, and Rep. Kim Sang-hee was picked to fill the DPK's slot. Kim will be the first female deputy speaker in the nation's political history.
Rep. Byun Jae-ill, who had planned to bid for the post, gave up the bid, Tuesday, "for the great cause of having the first female member in the Assembly's leadership."
"There has been not a single woman in the Assembly's leadership for the last 73 years since the nation's Constitution was established, and this is what male lawmakers need to reflect on," Byun said in a statement. "The DPK, as the majority party, should take a path that has never been taken before."