National Assembly passes motion to dismiss safety minister over Itaewon response

Posted on : 2022-12-12 16:53 KST Modified on : 2022-12-12 17:19 KST
Ruling party lawmakers boycotted the vote while the presidential office stayed reticent, offering little in the way of comment
President Yoon Suk-yeol prays during a luncheon with leaders of the Christian community at the presidential office in Yongsan on Nov. 8. (courtesy of the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol prays during a luncheon with leaders of the Christian community at the presidential office in Yongsan on Nov. 8. (courtesy of the presidential office)

A motion to remove Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min from office was passed by the National Assembly on Sunday. Lawmakers belonging to the ruling People Power Party (PPP) were absent for the vote.

The ruling party’s lawmakers opposed the vote by expressing their intention to pull out of the special committee overseeing the parliamentary investigation into the Itaewon disaster, but party leadership seemed hesitant to issue a flat-out refusal to conduct a parliamentary investigation.

The National Assembly held a plenary session Sunday morning, where lawmakers passed a motion proposing the dismissal of Lee with a vote of 182 in favor and 1 vote counted as invalid. This is the second time the Yoon Suk-yeol administration faces a motion calling for the dismissal of a minister that has been passed by the National Assembly. The first instance was in September, when the opposition-controlled legislature passed a motion calling for the dismissal of Foreign Minister Park Jin.

The plenary session was held on a Sunday. This is because the National Assembly Speaker, Kim Jin-pyo, and the floor leaders of both ruling parties agreed on Saturday to delay the vote on next year’s budget bill to Thursday so as to focus on discussing the matter of Lee’s dismissal motion.

Motions to dismiss Cabinet members can be voted on no earlier than 24 hours after being reported and no later than 72 hours after the plenary session starts. Lee’s dismissal motion was reported Thursday.

PPP lawmakers entered the National Assembly with signs saying, “No protecting Lee Jae-myung, Yes to finding out the truth,” “Lying hypocrites! The Democratic Party should be ashamed!” in protest of the vote. Some of the party’s lawmakers shouted that the speaker, who has the authority to bring a dismissal motion to the floor, should resign.

However, once the dismissal was brought to the floor, all the members of PPP, except for Kwon Eun-hee, boycotted the vote and exited the National Assembly building. The vote was decided by the Democratic Party, the Justice Party, and independent members.

Park Hong-keun, the Democratic Party’s floor leader, met with reporters after the vote and commented, “We urge the president to not ignore the spirit of the constitution on this dismissal motion.”

PPP members held a protest rally, where they issued condemnations of the Democratic Party.

Lee Man-hee, executive secretary of the special parliamentary committee for the Itaewon disaster, said that he believes the “agreement to conduct a parliamentary investigation after the 2023 budget agreement has been made null by the Democratic Party’s decision to go ahead with the motion to dismiss Minister Lee.”

He also said that “all seven of the members of the special parliamentary committee have related their intentions to resign to the floor leader.” PPP floor leader Joo Ho-young stated to the Hankyoreh that he would “listen to the opinion of the party and make a decision on Monday.”

While the presidential office was reticent about the passing of the dismissal motion, saying only that they “had no position,” to tell on the matter, it appears highly likely that President Yoon Suk-yeol will veto the motion once it lands on his desk.

An official from the presidential office told the Hankyoreh that “doing something that won’t help the victims and the bereaved families find the truth is not in their best interest.”

However, with public opinion leaning in favor of Lee’s dismissal, and with this being the second motion for the dismissal of one of Yoon’s ministers, it’s likely to impose a substantial political burden on the office.

The Democratic Party plans to propose an impeachment motion after the deadline for the parliamentary investigation into the Itaewon disaster (Jan. 7, 2023) if Yoon does not sign off on the dismissal proposal.

Lee Soo-jin, the main opposition’s floor spokesperson, said, “If President Yoon rejects an order from the people, we will clearly hold them responsible for the disaster with the full authority of the National Assembly that is given by the people.”

By Shim Wu-sam, staff reporter; Oh Yeon-seo, staff reporter; Kim Mi-na, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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