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Seoul lawmakers to vote on motions to arrest top politician Lee, dismiss prime minister

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2023-09-20 20:05
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FILE PHOTO: Lee Jae-myung, leader of South Korea's Democratic Party [Photo/Agencies]

South Korea's ruling and opposition parties are headed for a confrontation in Parliament on Sept 21, as lawmakers prepare to vote on two separate motions seeking the arrest of the opposition leader and the dismissal of the prime minister.

The motion requesting parliamentary consent to arrest Lee Jae-myung, head of the Democratic Party of Korea (DP), over bribery and other charges was submitted on Sept 20 after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol approved it a day earlier, according to Yonhap News Agency.

On the other hand, the DP had filed a motion on Sept 18 calling for the dismissal of Prime Minister Han Duk-soo, with the party urging the president to carry out a complete overhaul of the cabinet.

Both motions are expected to be put to an anonymous vote during a plenary session on Sept 21.

Under the law, South Korean legislators are immune from arrest while Parliament is in session, and can be arrested only when the National Assembly consents to it. The measure is aimed at shielding lawmakers from political persecution.

A majority of the Assembly members must vote for the motion to pass, and a majority of those voting must vote in support of the motion.

The motion came as Lee's hunger strike entered the 21st day. The 58-year-old Lee began a hunger strike in a tent outside of the National Assembly's main building on Aug 31 to protest against the government's policies. He has been hospitalized since Sept 18 due to his deteriorating health.

In a Facebook post on Sept 20, Lee said the clearly "illegal and unfair" approval of the arrest motion will give wing to the political prosecution's maneuvers.

Describing the warrant request as "absurd", Lee said a precedent should not be set by abusing the prosecution's rights as a tool to intimidate the National Assembly and divide the opposition parties.

"The prosecution has mobilized hundreds of investigators, including about 60 prosecutors, to seize and search around me for more than 300 times for over two years, but nothing has come out," said Lee, calling for an end to the "prosecution's dictatorship".

"Eight months before the general elections, the government's move to 'kill a political enemy' is heading to the extreme," said Kang Sun-woo, a DP spokesman, in a statement.

The motion can be rejected if DP lawmakers vote against it. The party holds a parliamentary majority with 167 seats in the 297-member National Assembly.

In February, the first motion for Lee's arrest warrant was discarded in an anonymous vote. Out of the 297 votes, 139 approved Lee's arrest and 138 rejected it, falling short of the threshold of 149 votes required to pass the motion.

DP's leadership and those who support Lee said the possibility of "rejection" is bigger than that of the vote in February, as his hunger strike is expected to trigger much sympathy among other lawmakers, according to Dong-a Ilbo.

But there are concerns that due to fatigue within the party over Lee's judicial risk, the result might be unclear during the anonymous vote.

As for the main opposition's request for a full cabinet reshuffle, the ruling People Power Party had said earlier that the demands were "unrealistic".

Analysts expect the confrontation between the two parties will continue until the general election next year.

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