National Assembly opens plenary session amid standoff over prosecution reform bills

SEOUL-- The National Assembly opened a plenary session Wednesday amid a standoff over prosecution reform legislation, with the ruling Democratic Party vowing to pass the bills without fail and its main opposition rival People Power Party immediately launching a filibuster.

The PPP also filed for an injunction with the Constitutional Court against the legislation, which would reduce and ultimately abolish the prosecution's investigative powers, claiming procedural errors in the DP's earlier passage of the bills through the judiciary committee.

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, floor leader of the PPP, spoke first in the filibuster, denouncing the legislation as "an outcome of deceptive political engineering."

Earlier in the day, Rep. Park Hong-keun, floor leader of the DP, said the party will pass the bills "without fail" after railroading the legislation through the judiciary committee in the wee hours Wednesday. The DP holds 171 out of 300 seats, compared with the PPP's 110 seats.

The bills are aimed at reducing and ultimately removing the prosecution's investigative powers.

Park told a party meeting that the DP "will not be swayed any more by the PPP and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol" over their objection to the bills that were originally agreed on by the two main parties.

The DP has justified its move by claiming the PPP broke its promise when it demanded a review of the compromise deal that called for curtailing the prosecution's investigative right to two crime types -- corruption and economic crimes -- before removing it completely.

The compromise deal represented a breakthrough between the rival parties that had sparred fiercely for weeks over the DP's headlong push for legislation that would immediately deprive the prosecution of all investigative powers.

But the PPP backtracked on the deal after it drew unexpectedly strong criticism from the public that lawmakers colluded to shield themselves from prosecution investigations, as the agreement calls for excluding crimes related to elections and public officials from prosecution probes.

Yoon, a former top prosecutor who is set to take office on May 10, earlier voiced concerns about the bills, calling for the entire political community to reflect deeply on what is right in order to defend the Constitution and protect the people.

On Wednesday, Yoon only said, "Our party will take care of it."

His chief of staff, Chang Je-won, later said the president-elect's aides came up with the idea of holding a national referendum on the bills during the June 1 local elections and that he planned to bring the proposal to Yoon.

"In terms of cost, if we do it at the same time as the local elections, we should be able to ask (the people) without spending a large amount," Chang told reporters, saying he still believes outgoing President Moon Jae-in will veto the legislation.

The prosecution again lambasted the reform bills and said it is reviewing an option to file a constitutional suit and seek a court injunction to suspend them if they are passed in a plenary parliamentary session.

"The prosecution can file a suit disputing the authority of (another public agency), a kind of constitutional dispute, and an additional suit seeking an injunction suspending the effect (of the bills)," Deputy Prosecutor General Park Sung-jin, currently acting as the top prosecutor, said in a press conference.

"We have formed a separate team, and it is thoroughly preparing (for possible suits)," he said.

Park said "it clearly runs afoul of the Constitution" to bar prosecutors from direct investigations and restrict their authority to prosecute, imploring the National Assembly speaker to "reconsider" putting the bills on vote during a plenary session.

Source: Yonhap News Agency