|Lawmakers attend a plenary session of the National Assembly, Monday. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea passed controversial bills on real estate policies and the establishment of a special anti-corruption investigative body, despite protest by the main opposition United Future Party which boycotted votes for the bills. Yonhap|
Revisions enable heavier taxation on multiple homeowners, speculators
By Kim Rahn, Jung Da-min
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) passed controversial bills on real estate policies and the establishment of a special anti-corruption investigative body, despite protests from the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), at a plenary session held Monday.
The revisions to the real estate-related bills call for heavier taxation on acquisition and comprehensive real estate and capital gains taxes on owners of multiple homes and speculators.
The comprehensive real estate tax rate on owners of multiple homes will be raised to a maximum 6 percent and the acquisition tax rate to 8 percent to 12 percent on people who own two or more homes in speculative areas.
While the DPK and other minor parties voted to finally pass the bills after they had earlier been passed at standing committees and the legislation committee, the UFP boycotted the voting as a show of protest.
But the UFP lawmakers did not walk out as they had in the previous plenary sessions. Instead, UFP lawmakers participated in the debates at the plenary session to deliver their message of protest, saying the "autocratic" moves by the DPK are ruining democracy.
"The DPK is unilaterally pushing ahead with bills that could bring a serious constraint on people's property rights, without due process or debates," UFP floor leader Rep. Joon Ho-young said at a party meeting held earlier the same day.
After the meeting, Joo told reporters, "There was a wide diversity of opinion among party members how we would protest, with some saying we should conduct a filibuster and others saying we should boycott the votes after delivering speeches of objection." He said a majority of party members supported the latter.
Although the UFP boycotted the votes for the bills on real estate policies and the establishment of the anti-corruption investigative body, it participated in votes for other bills which the parties agreed on, such as revisions to the National Sports Promotion Act to prevent abuse of athletes, and revisions for the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act to better deal with the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
The DPK's railroading of controversial bills is continuing despite the strong protest by the UFP, as the former has a supermajority with 176 seats out of the 300-strong National Assembly, while the latter has 103 seats.
The UFP's efforts to overcome the numerical inferiority are having little effect as it had earlier given up on securing chairpersonships on any of the 18 Assembly committees after negotiations between the parties broke down. After the DPK pushed ahead with the unilateral formation of the committees, the UFP boycotted committee meetings for weeks but returned July 7.
The parties, however, continued to clash over controversial bills including those on real estate policies and the establishment of the special anti-corruption body empowered to investigate high-ranking officials and their family members. The DPK railroaded them saying they were "urgent issues," but the UFP strongly opposed them saying the ruling party did not observe due process of allowing sufficient time to discuss them.
Main opposition remains helpless
The UFP has remained helpless against the supermajority DPK railroading of controversial bills.
With no effective means to fight back, some hardline members suggest boycotting all National Assembly sessions and instead staging street protests ― a means of protest which its leadership hesitates to adopt because such a strategy did not work in the previous 20th Assembly.
This situation was well-expected and the opposition party was determined to face it when it decided not to take the chairpersonship of any of the 18 standing committees of the Assembly in protest of the DPK taking the chief position at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, which has traditionally been taken by a main opposition party member to hold the ruling bloc in check.
But UFP members say it is worse than expected, as the ruling party railroaded controversial bills on real estate policies last week without discussion by taking advantage of its control over the relevant committees and its supermajority in the Assembly seats.
All the UFP members could do was leave the committee meeting rooms and the plenary session chamber to boycott the voting on the bills in a show of protest.
When giving up on securing the chairs of all the committees, the UFP sought to arouse public criticism that the ruling party had "monopolized" the Assembly, but this tactic only helped the DPK push ahead with what it wanted. If the main opposition party had accepted the DPK's initial offer to hold chairpersonship of seven committees instead of giving up the legislation one, including that for the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee, the UFP could have prevented the DPK's steamrolling of the real estate bills.
Its helplessness was also on display when the ruling party unilaterally approved the nomination of Lee In-young as unification minister and Park Jie-won as National Intelligence Service director.
Discontented at the situation, some UFP members claim the party should boycott all Assembly sessions and stage protests in the streets by joining hands with conservative civic groups.
But the basic stance of the UFP leadership, including interim chief Kim Chong-in and floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young, is, at least for now, to avoid such "outside of the Assembly" protest but continue to fight the ruling bloc's policies by attending Assembly sessions, because the party's such protests in the previous 20th Assembly, including former party chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn staging a hunger strike and having his head shaved, failed to win public support.
"The people's level of expectation for politics is totally different from that in the past. Going out and protesting isn't everything," Kim said after an emergency party meeting at the Assembly, Thursday.
But the party also did not entirely rule out the possibility of street protests.
"I don't like protests outside of the Assembly, but I won't dismiss the possibility," Joo said also on Thursday. "We are thinking when and how, if we decide on such protests, because the whole country is on a high alert against heavy rain, people are going on summer vacation, and keeping social distancing is still important to prevent COVID-19."
Ruling party continues unilateral push
It seems the DPK does not care at all about these protests and complaints from opposition parties ― not only the UFP but also the minor progressive Justice Party and others ― over the ruling party's unilateral push for bills and policies.
Some DPK members expressed concerns over the party's push for bills and lack of cooperation with opposition parties, but they soon faced harsh criticism from strong supporters of the Moon Jae-in administration.
Rep. Noh Woong-rae said in a radio show last week that the current situation was undesirable, saying the people may not be happy about the DPK's railroading of bills by taking advantage of its supermajority position and that there should be cooperation between the other parties.
Then he faced a flood of malicious comments on Facebook from supporters of the administration who wrote comments like: "What is scarier than the enemy is an internal enemy like you."
The four-term lawmaker then hung out the white flag, writing on Facebook later in the day, "I tried hard for cooperation but I underestimated the UFP. Watching what the UFP is doing, I am learning again that we had no choice but to pass the bills unilaterally."