National Assembly passes motion to arrest Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung

Cho Mi-deop, Shin Ju-yeong 2023. 9. 22. 15:09
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National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo declares the adoption of the arrest motion for Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung in a parliamentary session on September 21. Seong Dong-hun

On September 21, legislators passed the arrest motion for Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung in the National Assembly. This will be a critical blow to Lee’s leadership, for he has failed to bring the party together as one despite his 22-day hunger strike and appeal to lawmakers to reject the motion. He also faces the disgrace of becoming the first major opposition leader to appear in court for a suspect questioning prior to arrest (warrant review) in the history of our Constitution. The Democratic Party is expected to suffer a turbulent aftermath as it tries to rebuild the party’s leadership.

In a parliamentary session Thursday, 295 legislators were present, and they passed the motion for Lee’s arrest with 149 votes in favor of the motion and 139 against it. Six lawmakers abstained and four cast invalid votes. The lawmakers passed the motion with one more vote than was needed to form a majority (148 or more).

It appears at least 29 Democratic Party lawmakers (167 present) cast votes in favor of the motion in addition to lawmakers of the People Power Party (PPP, 110 present)--which decided to support the motion at the party level--the Justice Party (6), and independent lawmakers and lawmakers of minor parties supporting the PPP. When we add the ten lawmakers who abstained or cast invalid votes, the number of lawmakers who did not reject the motion increases to 39. Some claim that Lee's breaking his pledge to give up his privilege from arrest and urging lawmakers to reject the motion backfired.

On September 18, the prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for Lee on charges linked to special favors in the Baekhyeon-dong development project and to funds sent to North Korea by the Ssangbangwool group. In February, prosecutors requested the first arrest warrant for Lee in connection to allegations in the Daejang-dong project, but the motion was rejected in the National Assembly. However, Lee failed to evade the second arrest warrant. Lee is expected to appear in court early next week to answer questions before the court decides whether to issue the warrant.

The latest vote confirmed that a considerable number of Democratic Party lawmakers had acted against the direction of the party, seriously weakening the party’s leadership. If Lee is arrested, the damage could be fatal. But even if the warrant is dismissed, the party still faces the difficult challenge of bringing the party back together. The Democratic Party is likely to be swept in internal strife over the party’s leadership and candidate nominations ahead of the parliamentary elections next year. On Thursday night, the party held an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council to discuss its course of action.

Yun Jae-ok, floor leader of the People Power Party (PPP), met with reporters and said, “No one can win against public sentiment. I believe the result reflected public opinion.” The Office of the President did not announce any position on the issue.

In the parliamentary session Thursday, lawmakers also passed the motion to dismiss Prime Minister Han Duck-soo. Since the Constituent Assembly was established in 1948, there have been nine motions for the dismissal of the prime minister, but this was the first time that such a motion was passed in the parliamentary session. Of the 298 registered legislators, 295 cast votes resulting in 175 in favor and 116 against the motion, while four abstained. According to Article 63 of the Constitution, the National Assembly can advise the president to dismiss the prime minister or cabinet member, but to do that it needs the support of a majority (150) of the registered lawmakers. Most of the Democratic Party legislators (167 voted) are believed to have voted in favor of the motion, while most of the PPP lawmakers (110 voted) are thought to have rejected it. Reportedly, President Yoon Suk-yeol is expected to reject the motion defining it as a political attack by the opposition party, as he did with the motions to dismiss Foreign Minister Park Jin and Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min.

The National Assembly also passed the impeachment motion for Ahn Dong-wan, current deputy chief prosecutor of the Anyang Branch of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office, an initiative led by the Democratic Party. This was the first time in the history of the South Korean government that lawmakers voted to impeach an incumbent prosecutor. Lawmakers sought to impeach Ahn because he prosecuted a Seoul metropolitan government official who was a victim of a fabricated espionage case for violating the Foreign Exchange Transactions Act in an act of retaliation.

In the confirmation hearing Thursday, the National Assembly adopted the report on a review of Lee Gyun-ryong (Lee Gyun-yong), nominee for chief justice of the Supreme Court. The report stated the PPP opinion that Lee was “qualified,” along with the opposition party’s opinion that he was “unqualified” for the position. The lawmakers will discuss putting the issue to a vote in a plenary session on September 25. To approve the appointment of the chief justice, a majority of the lawmakers must support the nomination with a majority of registered lawmakers present. Many in the Democratic Party, which holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly, are against Lee, so a parliamentary approval does not seem likely.

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