Filibuster galvanizes voters` attention to politics [2016/03/08 16:22]

For Yoon Hee-won, a 31-year-old South Korean graduate student who has studied political science in the United States for more than 10 years, the ongoing legislative standoff back home is quite different from what he has seen while living overseas.

“When I turned on the TV to watch news about Korean politics, the programs often reported a story featuring Korean lawmakers getting into fistfights, hiding gavels and throwing furniture in order to prevent the passage of laws. It is quite noteworthy that they don`t do that anymore,” said Yoon.

“What makes me excited is that the Korean lawmakers try to debate, not physically fight, over the issues. It is not about whether I support the bill or not. It is not about whether I agree with the speech that opposition lawmakers are making during the filibuster,” he said.

With opposition lawmakers continuing to stage filibusters for more than three days against a counterterrorism bill they believe would undermine civil liberty by expanding surveillance power, the U.S.-style parliamentary rule has quickly gained prominence among the public.

Since the filibuster was abolished in 1973, the lawmakers have been mostly deprived of the right to obstruct the passage of bills backed by the majority other than by physically blocking the lawmakers from passing the law. Though the obstruction rule was reinstated in 2012, it had not been used until this Tuesday.

The rare scene in the National Assembly drew enthusiasm for Korea`s political system particularly among Internet users, many of them young voters considered to be frustrated or apathetic toward politics.

When the first filibusterer Rep. Kim Kwang-jin took the podium Tuesday and his successor Rep. Eun Su-mi cracked the record for the longest filibuster in Korea`s history Wednesday, the liberal lawmakers` name and the word “filibuster” became the most searched items on Naver, Korea`s top search engine.

Some users volunteered for an “online filibuster” by creating a website where citizens could express their opinion of the counterterrorism legislations. Its homepage,, was flooded with comments criticizing the pending bills.

The enthusiasm in cyberspace was also brought to the doorstep of the National Assembly. People Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, one of the nation`s largest progressive civic groups, has been launching a campaign at the Assembly since Tuesday to allow citizens to speak out against the bill. But the mood did not appear to resonate with voters as a whole.

Local pollster Realmeater found Wednesday that advocates for the filibuster were outnumbered by opponents, with 46.1 percent opposing the move and 42.6 percent supporting it. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percent points The survey reflected different trends in accordance with the respondents` age and ideological background.

Some 68 percent of those in their 30s and 56 percent of those in their 20s supported the filibuster, but those in their 50s and 60s opposed the measure, with the former at 66 percent and the latter at 58 percent. Observers pointed out the greater numbers in opposition to the current filibuster is more to do with the nature of the antiterror bill and support for the measures, rather than the method itself.

Lee Jung-hee, political professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, noted that the filibuster would serve to better inform voters about the legislative issues by allowing the lawmakers an opportunity to make their case and communicate directly with the people.

“One of the filibuster`s strengths is its ability to highlight the issue. Back in previous days, the voters were overwhelmed with political standoff and often failed to grasp what the fight was about. By watching the debate, they will better understand the issue,” Lee said.
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