Korea's Super Smash Legislators Fight Over Trade

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/03/2009 03:35:00 PM
My first holiday season at home in many years has familiarized me with one of my younger cousins' favorite video game titles, Nintendo's bestselling Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I gather it is a less violent version of Mortal Kombat. In my younger days, I'd like to think I was a dab hand at video games. Nowadays, I get my behind handed to me on a regular basis by eight-year-olds. Interestingly enough, cartoonish violence is not just a staple of Wii consoles this holiday season. Recently, I discussed the brouhaha over the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUSFTA) in which the ruling party locked out lawmakers from the opposing party to ensure that the trade bill was introduced. Unhappy with this action, the opposition literally took a sledgehammer to, shall we say, break up proceedings.

Let us now pick up on the subsequent action. Opposition lawmakers have barricaded themselves inside the parliament building since 26 December in hopes of attracting sympathy for their cause of hindering the passage of KORUSFTA. Whereas the ruling party sees its passage as crucial to safeguard major export markets like the US, the opposition sees it as possibly resulting in an avalanche of US agricultural products for Korea's well-protected market. Remember that South Korea is also seeking bilateral deals with the EU, Canada, and India. I am not sure how much trade creation Korea expects from engaging in a frenzy of bilateral deals as these partners aren't faring much better than it at the moment. Nevertheless, the ruling party seems to have tied its political future to these deals and other liberalizing measures.

In any event, the Grand National Party (GNP) has not been able to proceed with voting on KORUSFTA despite its majority because the National Assembly has literally been hijacked by the Democratic Party. Today, security guards of the parliament building forcibly tried to eject the opposition lawmakers. Given their feisty history, it's no surprise that the latter have taken to fisticuffs with the security guards in a reprise of the 18 December brawl. The long and the short of it is that while the brave (foolhardy?) Democratic Party lawmakers have been roughed up, they are as of yet unbowed. From Reuters:
South Korean opposition lawmakers scuffled with security personnel on Saturday as guards tried to end their blockade of the assembly that has paralysed parliament and delayed voting on a U.S. trade deal and reform bills. The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) has been thwarted in its attempt to push through the trade deal, sweeping tax cuts and plans to privatise state firms by opposition lawmakers who have blockaded the door to the main parliament chamber.

More than 200 parliament security guards stormed the assembly building rotunda where opposition lawmakers have camped out and a large scuffle broke out, sending some MPs and guards to hospital for treatment for minor injuries. The main opposition Democratic Party has called conservative President Lee Myung-bak and his GNP's reform bills "evil" and pledged to block them. It called Saturday's action by parliament security, which was ordered by its speaker, illegal.

The latest attempt to strike a deal to end the impasse broke down on Friday, when a meeting of GNP and opposition leaders ended in a dispute over the participation of a minor opposition party. The GNP has outlined 85 bills it wants to pass that also include measures to ease bank ownership rules, give debt-relief to low income households and revamp the broadcast industry.

Lee, in a major policy speech on Friday, called on MPs to move on the reform agenda to help the export-drive economy steer through the global financial crisis. South Korea and the United States struck the trade deal in 2007 that some studies said would boost their $78 billion a year two-way trade by about $20 billion, but neither country's legislatures has approved it.
The BBC has prime footage of the latest carnage. President Lee Myung-bak wants to have a deal in hand before the current session of parliament (or whatever passes for it now) ends on 8 January, virtually guaranteeing more action. For a bit of trivia, readers should be chuffed to know that South Korea is known as the "Land of Morning Calm" [!] Coincidentally, I have been duly informed by my primary school game experts that the legendary Nintendo title Punch Out!! is coming out soon on Wii. Until matters are resolved...good fight, good night.

1/6 UPDATE: The opposition has agreed to leave the premises in exchange for the ruling party delaying a vote on KORUSFTA. The saga continues.