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Tension mounts between Yoon administration, opposition party

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Korea Communications Commission Chairman Lee Dong-kwan attends a Cabinet meeting at the Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Friday. He expressed his intention to step down amid the opposition party's push to impeach him, and President Yoon Suk Yeol approved his resignation hours after the meeting. Yonhap

President approves resignation of broadcasting watchdog chief ahead of National Assembly's impeachment vote
By Nam Hyun-woo

Tension is rising between the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) as the main opposition party's attempt to impeach a controversial broadcasting watchdog chief forced him to resign, while the president vetoed a DPK-pushed labor bill.

The presidential office said, Friday, Yoon approved the resignation of Korea Communications Commission (KCC) Chairman Lee Dong-kwan, hours before his impeachment vote at the National Assembly takes place. Lee reportedly expressed his intention to step down, Thursday.

The DPK with 168 lawmakers at the 300-strong Assembly has been accusing Lee of unfair personnel decisions and appointments aimed at increasing government influence over broadcasters, and planned to pass an impeachment motion during a plenary meeting on Friday by using its majority seats.

If the impeachment motion is passed at the Assembly, Lee would be suspended from his position for months until the Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold it. As the KCC has been run with only two — Lee and another member — out of a required five seats, his suspension would have virtually grounded the commission's operations to a halt.

The rival parties have been butting heads over the broadcasting watchdog chief in order to gain an advantage before the general elections in April next year, given the huge influence that broadcasters have over voters.

Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea enter a briefing room at the National Assembly in Seoul, Friday, to make statements on Korea Communications Commission Chairman Lee Dong-kwan's resignation. Yonhap

The DPK has been claiming that Lee seeks to dictate broadcasting with his right-leaning views, but the ruling People Power Party (PPP) has been arguing that the KCC chairman is tasked with normalizing broadcasting, and the impeachment attempt is the main opposition party's attempt to use left-leaning TV programs for the general elections.

The DPK said Lee's resignation is "a mean trick" to avoid impeachment.

"Accepting the KCC chairman's resignation is a blatant impediment to the Assembly's constitutional process," DPK floor leader Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo said during a Supreme Council meeting, Friday.

PPP floor leader Rep. Yun Jae-ok said at a party meeting, also on Friday, "a majority decision that does not adhere to the rule of law is nothing but an act of violence," and "the DPK's disregard for the rule of law cannot prevail over the country's rule of law."

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

While tussling over the broadcasting watchdog chief, Yoon approved the Cabinet's motion asking the president to use his right to request the Assembly to reconsider a controversial pro-labor bill, better known as the "yellow envelope bill."

During a Cabinet meeting, Friday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the bill grants "special privileges only to labor unions by exempting them from the principle of compensation for damages," and it will "encourage illegal strikes" by making it difficult for businesses to hold unions accountable for losses incurred due to unlawful strikes.

When the president requests the Assembly to reconsider a bill, it requires the attendance of more than half of all registered lawmakers and approval by two-thirds of attending legislators for the act to be passed again, thereby making it more difficult to get the green light. Due to this, demanding a reconsideration is widely considered as a de facto veto by the president.

It is the third case of Yoon vetoing a bill that was passed by the Assembly. In April, he vetoed a revision of the Grain Management Act and then rejected the Assembly's approval of the Nursing Act in May.

The DPK stepped up its accusation of Yoon irresponsibly handling state affairs.

"There is a high level of national consensus and a pressing need for the bill," DPK Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung said. "Exercising the veto power for strategic reasons is not the kind of responsible stance expected from the government that is entrusted with managing state affairs."

As tension mounts between the Yoon administration and the main opposition party, the process of approving the 657 trillion won ($504 billion) state budget will also slow down. The deadline for the budget is Dec. 2 every year, and the Assembly failed to meet the deadline for the 2022 and 2023 state budgets.

Along with the yellow envelope bill, Yoon also vetoed three revisions of broadcasting laws aimed at expanding the board members of public broadcasting stations and changing their governing structures. The DPK, which unilaterally passed the revisions, believe they will help improve the independence of broadcasters, while the government believes they will make broadcast networks more vulnerable to political influence.

Nam Hyun-woo


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