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(2nd LD) New parliament kicks off amid concern about pro-N.K. members, committee formation
SEOUL, May 30 (Yonhap) -- The new National Assembly began its four-year term on Wednesday, overshadowed by concerns about left-leaning members accused of pro-North Korea bias and a lack of progress in negotiations to form parliamentary committees.

   The 300-member legislature was elected in last month's general elections. The ruling Saenuri Party has 150 seats, followed by the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) with 127 and the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) with 13.


The remaining 10 seats are shared by a minor opposition party and independents.

   One of the hottest issues in the new National Assembly is the entry of two left-leaning UPP members who were previously convicted of involvement in an anti-state organization linked to Pyongyang or violation of the anti-communist National Security Law.

   The two, Reps. Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon, have been under intense fire following revelations they are key members of a UPP faction comprised mainly of former student activists who followed and acted under North Korea's ruling ideology of "juche," or "self-reliance."

   Conservatives, including the ruling party, have called for the pair's ouster from parliament over fears that, as lawmakers, they would have easy access to confidential information on national security and such information could be passed to the regime in Pyongyang.

   Their party, now under control of a rival faction, has also pressured them to quit their parliamentary seats over findings that primary voting to select the party's proportional representation candidates was seriously rigged.

   The two have refused to step down, however.

   The ruling party has called for cooperation from the main opposition DUP to expel the two from the National Assembly as two-thirds approval is needed to have such a motion pass through parliament.

   The DUP, which has an alliance with the UPP, was initially negative about the proposal.

   On Wednesday, however, DUP floor leader Park Jie-won suggested his party may agree to the expulsion of Lee and Kim, but first demanded the two give up their parliamentary seats voluntarily.

   Park said the two could be referred to the parliamentary ethics committee because their party announced there had been irregularities in its primary election for proportional representation candidates.

   "But as it takes a fairly long time ... I demand they step down voluntarily," he said.

   Earlier in the day, the ruling party's floor leader renewed his call for the UPP pair's ouster.

   "As there are serious problems with them (Lee and Kim), we are still asking the DUP for cooperation in eliminating them," Rep. Lee Hahn-koo said in a radio interview. "If the DUP provides cooperation, we can secure two-thirds approval."

   During a party meeting earlier, Lee also suggested reforming various privileges given to lawmakers, such as the retirement pension and their immunity from arrest, amid perceptions lawmakers are given too many benefits while the general public is suffering economic difficulties.

   By law, those who serve as lawmakers are given a pension of 1.2 million won (US$1,018) each month after they reach the age of 65. Sitting lawmakers are also immune from arrest while the parliament is in session, a privilege that often comes under public fire because some legislators abuse the clause.

   The new Assembly is scheduled to hold an opening ceremony Tuesday of next week, but it is unclear whether the event can take place as planned because the two major parties are at odds over how to share control of 18 parliamentary committees.

   The ruling party is demanding it take control of 10 committees and the main opposition DUP chair the other eight, considering the number of parliamentary seats the two sides have. The DUP has countered that each of the two major parties should control nine committees.

   Also at issue is which committees each party should head.

   The position of National Assembly speaker goes to the largest party in parliament, and the ruling party is scheduled to hold a vote Friday to elect the parliamentary chief. The winner will be formally endorsed later in a parliamentary plenary meeting.

   The race is two-way between Rep. Kang Chang-hee, a six-term lawmaker close to leading presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye, and Rep. Chung Ui-hwa, a five-term lawmaker who served as acting speaker in the previous Assembly.