Hunger Strike Suspends Policy Debate in South Korea’s Parliament

  • Ruling party chief makes rare protest for high-ranked lawmaker
  • Audit of finance ministry was set to begin on Tuesday

The leader of South Korea’s ruling Saenuri party has gone on hunger strike in a protest against opposition moves to dismiss the new agricultural minister.

Lee Jung-hyun’s protest, which began Monday, is holding up the annual round of audits when lawmakers grill top policy makers on key decisions. Lee, a former aide to President Park Geun-hye, and other ruling party politicians are seeking the resignation of parliament speaker Chung Sye-kyun for passing a motion to dismiss the farm minister at the weekend.

The Saenuri lawmakers pledged to boycott all parliament proceedings until Chung steps down, while opposition politicians said in a statement they should return. The moves have disrupted the audits for the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chief of Staffs for two days, and look set to postpone a questioning session for the Finance Ministry, which was scheduled to start Tuesday.

The move comes as Park struggles to gain momentum for her economic agenda. Due to step down after a single term in February 2018, her promises to reform the labor market and boost service industries have failed to win support in parliament. Her task has been made harder after Saenuri confounded pre-vote forecasts by failing to gain a majority in April’s general election. It now has 129 seats in the 300-member National Assembly.

For a primer on South Korea’s economy, click here

Hunger strikes were a popular means for high-profile lawmakers in South Korea to protest against dictatorship back in the 1980s. The tactic is still used by politicians to express opposition against or to push for specific initiatives. In 2014, then opposition party leader Moon Jae-in went on a hunger strike for several weeks as he sought special legislation to probe the Sewol ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead.

For the finance ministry audit , lawmakers were expected to ask questions about the government’s responsibility in the fallout from the collapse of Hanjin Shipping Co. and losses at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co.

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