Tear-Gas Filibuster Fails in South Korea

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One of the many things I will be giving thanks for tomorrow is the South Korean legislature:

Just to be clear, this wasn't tear gas "fired at S. Korea lawmakers" by some outsider – it was fired at them by another lawmaker. Parliament was voting on a free-trade agreement with the United States, which may not seem that diabolical (at least in the U.S.) but has been very divisive in Korea. The ruling party called a surprise vote on the bill, which caught opponents off guard and most of them were unable to show up in time. One who did tried to filibuster the bill in a special way, by setting off a tear-gas canister. Despite the chemical warfare and a physical scuffle, the bill passed 151-7.

"The legislators were passing a bill which will make ordinary people shed bitter tears," said the guy who deployed the gas. "So I detonated tear gas so that they too shed tears, even if theirs were fake tears."

The NYT's report accurately notes that "lawmakers in South Korea are experienced in bare-knuckled politics," although its suggestion that the use of chemical weapons is a "novelty" I think is not quite right, as least if you are willing to include fire extinguishers. See "Legislation Breaks Out During Brawl in South Korean Assembly," Lowering the Bar (Dec. 19, 2008). That one also involved sledgehammers and at least one electric saw, and maybe not coincidentally was also triggered by a disputed free-trade agreement.

Although the Koreans are clearly working hard, I still don't think they are outdoing the opposition in Taiwan, and won't be until they too are willing to try to eat a bill in order to stop it from passing. In both countries, extreme action is, to some, justified by the fact that one party is so dominant that the other(s) are essentially locked out of government. Whether eating legislation is a viable strategy I still think is highly debatable, though.

These battles are by no means limited to Asia, as we saw last year when a debate in Ukraine degenerated into a food fight, and in 2007 when fisticuffs broke out in the Alabama legislature. I would guess, though, that only in Asia are you likely to see such a fight involve judo:

The NYT''s blog The Lede put together a pretty good roundup of such incidents in 2009, which is where I came across the judo clip. Turns out there are many more of these, which is either very sad or utterly hilarious depending on your point of view.

In all seriousness, I'd like to think the members of the U.S. budget "Supercommittee" really cared enough to at least consider resorting to fisticuffs, caning, or martial arts before giving up, but they probably didn't.