SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s main opposition party agreed on Tuesday to end a two-month parliamentary boycott that has gridlocked dozens of legislative bills, including free trade deals with the United States and European Union.
The opposition Democratic Party, with 85 of the 296 seats in the unicameral parliament, agreed to an extra sitting from Friday.
The Democrats walked out of parliament in December when the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) used its majority to pass the budget for 2011, as well as a number of controversial bills including the privatisation of the country’s top university.
Figuring high on the legislative agenda are measures to ease inflationary pressures on household finances from big increases in produce prices and residential rents to concerns about beef and pork prices after a food-and-mouth disease outbreak.
“It’s time for the Democratic Party to stop ignoring the bills pending in committees and pass them in time so that we restore the image of a parliament that takes its work seriously,” GNP spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan said.
The two parties have started campaigning unofficially ahead of a by-election in April when voters in 14 districts go to the polls to pick three MPs, one governor and 10 local officials.
The by-election is seen as key test of support before parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012.
Latest opinion polls indicate the GNP running with nearly 40 percent public support, followed by the Democrats with just over 25 percent. Support for President Lee Myung-bak stands at just over 40 percent.
Economic policy and inflationary concerns are likely to feature highly on the political agenda for the coming year. The two main parties have both adopted slogans that they want to make life better for the working class.
The Democrats have also indicated that they will fight to block a free trade deal signed with the United States after the two countries agreed to a revision to reflect U.S. Congress and industry concerns about a large imbalance in auto trade.
“Our position is that the government agreed to a revision to the FTA which is unfair and humiliating and we’re not going to respond to any discussions about that,” Democratic Party spokesman Cho Young-teck said.
U.S. Congress has also yet to pass the bill to approve the trade pact with South Korea that the two sides reworked in December and is expected to create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
Despite parliament’s ability to quickly process a long list of bills when it wants, analysts in South Korea see it unlikely the deal, which some studies said would boost two-way trade by as much as a quarter, will go into effect before 2012.
Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Sugita Katyal