Published : 2013-08-20 19:53
Updated : 2013-08-20 19:53
Only two days are left before the parliamentary probe into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged intervention in the December presidential election comes to an end. Yet there are few signs that the long drawn-out political standoff is thawing.
If anything, partisan gridlock is likely to deepen as the main opposition Democratic Party is threatening to step up its fight for NIS reform even after the parliamentary investigation ends.
Some DP lawmakers are calling for the appointment of an independent counsel as the parliamentary probe is highly likely to finish without getting to the bottom of the allegations.
On Friday, the two key witnesses in the parliamentary investigation ― former NIS director Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul police head Kim Yong-pan ― showed up at a hearing.
But as expected, the two refused to testify. Under the law, a witness has the right to refuse to testify at a parliamentary hearing if he or she is undergoing a trial and could be convicted due to the testimony.
Won was indicted on charges of orchestrating a smear campaign against Moon Jae-in, the opposition party’s presidential candidate, while Kim was charged with intervening in the police investigation into NIS officials involved in the alleged illegal activity.
The two did answer questions from lawmakers, but they did so without taking the oath. They also denied all the charges brought against them by prosecutors.
On Monday, a second hearing was held to hear testimonies from 27 other witnesses, mostly NIS and police officials. But it ended without shedding new light on the case.
Today, the last of the three scheduled hearings is to take place for witnesses who did not show up to the first two. But nothing much is expected of it as the two parties have failed to agree on bringing to the witness stand two Saenuri heavyweights ― Rep. Kim Moo-sung and Korean Ambassador to China Kwon Young-se.
If the parliamentary probe ends without going deeper than the prosecutors’ investigation, the opposition party has no justifiable reason to stop its outdoor protest rallies and return to parliament.
This means the plenary Assembly session that is starting on Sept. 2 is likely to be disrupted, making the passage of important bills impossible. Should this happen, it would stymie the government’s efforts to speed up the economic recovery.
The ruling party is pressuring the opposition party to return to parliament. It has convened an extraordinary Assembly session to settle annual government accounts for 2012 before starting deliberation on the budget bill for 2014.
Yet account settlement hardly matters to the opposition party now. It cannot return to business as usual without some face-saving achievement regarding NIS reform. Now, only President Park Geun-hye can meet the opposition party’s demands.
Park has left the task of reforming the NIS to the spy agency itself, leading many to doubt her commitment to transforming the agency. She needs to discuss NIS reform and other pending issues with DP leader Kim Han-gil and Saenuri chairman Hwang Woo-yea.
Otherwise, she cannot expect a smooth parliamentary passage of the bills designed to revitalize the economy. To put the economy back on a growth path, she needs to accommodate some of the opposition party’s demands.