Parliament passes 1 of 2 contentious prosecution reform bills amid strong opposition protest

The ruling party-dominated National Assembly on Saturday passed one of two controversial bills on prosecution reform amid strong protest from the main opposition party, heralding bipartisan standoff down the road.

The revision of the Prosecutors' Office Act was passed in a 172-3 vote, with two abstentions, during a parliamentary plenary session. Although members of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) attended the session, they boycotted the voting to protest the passage of the bill.

The revision limits the prosecution's investigative powers to only two crime types -- corruption and economic crimes -- from the current six, before removing them completely.

In recent weeks, the Democratic Party (DP) vowed to pass the two bills on prosecution reform before the May 10 inauguration of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol.

Early this week, the DP railroaded the legislation through the judiciary committee and said it would pass the bills at the plenary session "without fail." The DP holds 171 out of 300 seats, compared with the PPP's 110 seats.

The two parties reached a compromise on the bills, achieving a breakthrough between the rival parties that had sparred fiercely for weeks over the DP's headlong push for legislation.

But the PPP later 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.

The DP claimed that the PPP broke its promise when it demanded a review of the compromise deal.

Yoon 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.

The prosecution has also lambasted the reform bills and said it was reviewing an option to file a constitutional suit and seek a court injunction to suspend them if they are passed.

Following Saturday's passage of the revision of the Prosecutors' Office Act, the DP also presented the revision of the Criminal Procedure Act, the remaining half of the DP's prosecution reform push, for a plenary vote. The PPP countered the move with a filibuster, which is expected to last until the automatic deadline of midnight.

Before the plenary session, PPP lawmakers gathered in front of the office of Parliamentary Speaker Park Byeong-seug, holding placards and shouting chants blasting the DP's legislative push. Physical clashes between the PPP members and Park's staff broke out as the speaker tried to leave his office and enter the plenary chamber around 4 p.m.

According to the PPP, several of the party's female lawmakers were injured during the process and were taken to a hospital. Park later apologized and said he plans to look into the circumstances surrounding the confrontation in front of his office.

In a statement, the Supreme Prosecutors Office said it expresses "deep regret" over the passage of the revision and asked for President Moon Jae-in and the parliamentary speaker to make a "rational decision" on the DP's legislative drive.

Source: Yonhap News Agency