SEOUL, The new floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party said Sunday he expects a plenary session of the long-stalled National Assembly will be convened the following day to accept the resignations of lawmakers running in the upcoming local elections.

Rep. Hong Young-pyo made the remark in the first news conference since his election Friday, saying it is the National Assembly speaker's obligation to hold a plenary session if lawmakers submit resignations.

"We will make preparations on the assumption that there will be a plenary session tomorrow," he said.

Speaker Chung Sye-kyun has repeatedly suggested he would invoke his right to convene a plenary meeting without consent from opposition parties to handle the resignations.

The move would be a boon to the ruling Democratic Party because the parliament's approval of the resignations of the four lawmakers would enable by-elections to be held at the same time as June's local elections, at a time when the popularity of the ruling party is running high.

Three of the four resigning lawmakers -- Reps. Park Nam-chun, Yang Seung-jo and Kim Kyung-soo -- are with the ruling party, and the other, Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, is with the main opposition party.

The ruling party believes that if by-elections were held in June, it could sweep all four seats. The party's approval rating reached an all-time high of 56.9 percent last week against the main opposition party's 17.4 percent.

Unless the resignations are endorsed at a plenary session by Monday, however, the by-elections to fill the vacant seats would be put off until after April next year.

With regard to the opposition's demand for an independent counsel probe into the opinion rigging scandal, Hong said the ruling party has always been supportive of efforts to uncover truth about the scandal, but he also stressed that the case shouldn't be used as a tool for political bickering.

Hong said the party cannot accept an independent counsel investigation if it is based on an assumption that President Moon Jae-in was elected through opinion rigging, saying such an assumption would be an affront to the people.

The National Assembly has been idling as the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has been boycotting all parliamentary proceedings while demanding that the ruling party agree to a special investigation into an opinion rigging scandal involving a blogger with alleged ties to a ruling party lawmaker.

The LKP has strongly protested Chung's suggestion of invoking his right to hold a plenary meeting. Should a plenary meeting be convened and the resignations accepted, tensions between the two rival parties are expected to deepen further.

On Sunday, the opposition party warned of a breakdown of the National Assembly if a plenary session is convened without its consent, saying the lawmakers' resignations should be dealt with in a package with other issues, including the demand for an independent counsel probe.

"What speaker Chung should do now is not to pressure the opposition party struggling to uncover truth, but to pressure Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party trying to cover up truth," Rep. Chang Je-won, a party spokesman, said.

"Unilaterally convening a plenary session would only cause stronger protests from the opposition party and a breakdown (of the National Assembly)," he said.

Some members of the LKP even suggested using force to guard the entrance to the main National Assembly hall overnight so as to prevent ruling party lawmakers from entering the hall for a plenary meeting.

Source: Yonhap News Agency