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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#674(Special)】S. Korean Voters Chose Leftist Dictatorship Path

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2020.04.17 (Fri)

April 16, 2020

In South Korea’s general parliamentary election on April 15, President Moon Jae In’s ruling camp (the Democratic Party and its satellite partner, the Together Citizens’ Party) won a landslide victory, taking 180 seats or three-fifths of the 300 National Assembly seats. The ruling camp’s effective strength came to 189 seats including nine for small two leftist parties (the Justice Party with six seats and the Open Democratic Party with three). In contrast, the conservative United Future Party, the largest opposition group, obtained only 103 seats and the middle-of-the-road opposition People’s Party three seats.

In the unicameral National Assembly, bills supported by a three-fifths majority can be subjected to the so-called fast-track process, where the speaker can bring such bills to a full assembly vote even before the completion of committee-level deliberations that could be hindered by opposition resistance.

Ruling camp given free hand to enact even bad laws

Late last year, the ruling camp cooperated with minor leftist parties to narrowly achieve the three-fifths majority to enact two bad laws without consent from the largest opposition party. One of them amended an election law and the other was the High-ranking Officials’ Corruption Investigating Agency Act to establish a president-controlled prosecution office to investigate only high-ranking officials including prosecutors and judges.

In the next parliament, however, the ruling camp can easily enact laws that would lead South Korea to go in the direction of totalitarianism. South Korean voters have given the ruling camp free hand to take any legislative actions except a call for a constitutional amendment national referendum. Even a constitutional amendment referendum call could be passed if the High-ranking Officials’ Corruption Investigating Agency arrests opposition legislators who have already been indicted for National Assembly Act and other violations, according to many experts.

In South Korea, a constitutional amendment proposal is made by a simple majority of the National Assembly lawmakers or the president and must be approved by two-thirds of incumbent lawmakers before being referred to a national referendum. If arrested opposition lawmakers are convicted and lose National Assembly seats, with the number of incumbent lawmakers reduced, the two-thirds majority required to call a constitutional amendment national referendum would decrease proportionately.

Pay attention to conservatives’ counter-offensive

The Moon administration and the ruling parties made the punishment of pro-Japanese citizens an issue in election campaigns. In response, a leftist group that organized anti-Japan rallies last summer designated eight opposition camp candidates, including United Future Party leader Hwang Kyo Ahn and the party’s former floor leader Na Kyung Won, as pro-Japanese and conducted campaigns to defeat them. Reasons for the designation included remarks endorsing “Anti-Japan Tribalism,” a bestseller criticizing anti-Japan historical views. Six of the eight lost the latest election.

In contrast, Yoon Mee Hyang, the leader of an organization that has played a key role in worsening Japan-South Korea relations by globally spreading fakes claiming comfort women as sexual slaves over more than two decades, won a seat as a proportional-representation candidate of the ruling camp.

The anti-Japan group that engaged in campaigns to defeat the eight opposition candidates has called for an anti-Japan law to punish anyone for pro-Japanese remarks, confiscate assets of pro-Japanese citizens, cancel their decorations and expel them from national cemeteries. A poll during election campaigns found that 25% of ruling camp candidates supported the call. A new law punishing anyone for pro-Japanese remarks could lead “Anti-Japan Tribalism” editor-author Lee Young Hoon, a former professor at Seoul National University, to be arrested.

“Korean people would be tried in the election,” South Korean conservative journalist Cho Gab Je said before the election. “If the ruling camp wins, the country would take the same path as Venezuela (put under a leftist dictatorship).” South Korean voters have chosen the path temporarily. I would like to pay attention to how conservatives pursuing free democracy in South Korea would take a counter-offensive.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.