South Korean filibuster: 115 hours and counting

Opposition lawmaker Choi Kyu Sung speaking at the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday in a filibuster to block a security Bill.
Opposition lawmaker Choi Kyu Sung speaking at the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday in a filibuster to block a security Bill.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • South Korean opposition lawmakers seeking to block a government-backed "anti-terrorism" Bill pushed their record-breaking filibuster into a sixth straight day of speeches in the parliamentary chamber yesterday.

The filibuster began on Tuesday and had continued round the clock for more than 115 hours by yesterday afternoon, making it the world's longest, according to the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper.

It easily surpassed a 58-hour session by 103 members of Canada's New Democratic Party in 2011.

By yesterday afternoon, 23 lawmakers had spoken for an average of five hours each in opposition to a Bill that they believe will threaten personal freedoms if passed. Many carried boxes of documents to the podium at the National Assembly.

Earlier this month, President Park Geun Hye's office called for Parliament to pass the stalled security Bill, part of tough action taken by her government amid heightened tensions with North Korea following its test launch of a long- range rocket this month and its fourth nuclear test last month.

The Bill gives South Korea's intelligence agency the authority to collect a wide range of personal data - some without a court warrant - including phone records of those suspected of posing a security threat.

It also allows the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to have Internet posts deleted if it deems that they pose a threat to public security.

"If this Bill becomes law, the NIS will have tremendous, unbridled power to monitor the lives of our citizens and to collect their personal information," Ms Yoo Seung Hee of the Minju Party said last week.

Lawmakers from the conservative ruling Saenuri Party, which controls 157 of the assembly's 293 seats, have expressed dismay that the speech-making is causing other Bills to be delayed ahead of parliamentary elections due in April.

Opposition lawmaker Jung Chung Rae spoke for 11 hours and 39 minutes last Saturday, the longest speech of the filibuster thus far.

According to a South Korean newspaper, some lawmakers came to tears during their speeches, one sang and another read aloud from George Orwell's 1984, a dystopian novel about omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'South Korean filibuster: 115 hours and counting'. Print Edition | Subscribe