President under pressure to engage with opposition to end parliamentary impasse
Published : 2013-09-10 21:14
Updated : 2013-09-10 21:14
President Park Geun-hye returns from her “sales diplomacy” trip Wednesday to an aggravated political standoff over the National Intelligence Service.
Observers are pinning hopes on her agreeing to meet with the opposition leadership ― regardless of the format ― once she is back, to quash the months-long deadlock that has been hampering urgent social and economic tasks.
Since assuming office in February, Park has been averse to breaking bread with the opposition, with her aides stressing her job was to run the state, not engage in politics.
But observers point out that engaging in politics is one of the core tasks of the president in representing the public, and that frequent communication with the opposition is crucial to get the job done.
“Park is repeating what most of her predecessors have been doing ― be they liberal or conservative, veteran politician or former businessman ― they all vowed to stay away from politics, calling it ‘Yeouido politics,’ viewing them as wasteful,” said professor Yoon Pyung-joong of Hanshin University.
“As disruptive as they may be, Yeouido politics are a part of the free democratic politics that cannot be edited out. The boundary between political strife and politics cannot be artificially removed,” Yoon said.
Professor Shin Yul of Myongji University stressed that the president should acknowledge the role of politics by taking long-term administration into consideration.
“You cannot divide the roles of the ruling party and the president to a tee. If it must be so, then the president should leave the party. The president should enable the party to act as a buffer zone by acknowledging the role of politics.”
Professor Kang Won-taek of Seoul National University agreed. “Statesmanship comes from being able to provide the opposition room to break through.”
“To the opposition’s demand for her apology over the NIS, she can choose to do so in so many ways, such as by showing a determination to reform the NIS during the discussion with the opposition,” he said.
The main opposition Democratic Party has been demanding a one-on-one, or a three-way meeting with the president since last month to address the growing public apprehension over the NIS’ alleged political interference, namely its alleged smear campaign during last year’s presidential election. Cheong Wa Dae has refused, counter-proposing five-way talks to include the floor leaders of the rival parties instead, in an apparent attempt to underscore her intention to only discuss “matters pending to public livelihood.”
The DP has now raised the stakes upon the on-going probe into leftist lawmaker Rep. Lee Seok-ki held for suspected conspiracy to lead an armed revolt, calling their fight a struggle to resurrect the lost democracy.
“A meeting with the president in itself is not the purpose, but to include reform of the NIS into the agenda for the talks,” said DP chairman Kim Han-gil during his visit to the April 19 National Cemetery over the weekend.
Another DP member said, “Although the approval rating for the administration is soaring due to the Lee Seok-ki probe, the ratings will soon hit bottom if (the president) continues to neglect the cooperation from the opposition.”
Park’s first and last meeting with the opposition leadership was on April 12, as part of the series of introductory meals with political leaderships. Her earlier proposal in March to meet with the rival parties to urge for their support in the government reorganization plans amid her personnel appointment debacle was denied by the DP.
Some observers say Park’s reluctance to meet with the opposition stems from her principle of separating the roles of the president and the ruling party. It is her belief that as an ordinary member of the party, any talks or negotiation with the main opposition should be conducted in the presence of the opposition’s official “counterpart,” the ruling party leader, they say.
Sources also cite Park’s aversion toward “showmanship,” contending that meeting for the sake of meeting is meaningless. More realistically, they point out that Park is aware of the DP’s predicament, as the DP leadership suffers from the chronic internal strife with the staunch members, who are most likely to oppose any “unsatisfactory” outcome of the talks with the president.
Park had been in a similar situation to the opposition party leader in 2005, when she proposed exclusive talks with then President Roh Moo-hyun in January over pending issues. Cheong Wa Dae refused, saying “political matters should be solved through dialogue between the ruling and the opposition parties at the National Assembly.”
For now, members of the ruling camp are seen to be warming to the idea of Park meeting with the DP leadership.
Saenuri floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan visited Kim at the DP’s outdoor rally site on Thursday last week and said he would work to break the standoff once Park returns from her overseas trip.
Park’s new senior secretary for political affairs Park Joon-woo also reportedly had dinner with four DP members and said the current stalemate should be broken before the Chuseok holidays next week.
Park and the Saenuri Party aim to have 126 bills passed for their administrative drive within this regular session that kicked off this month.
“It is good timing for all parties involved as Park can deliver the accomplishments from her overseas visit,” Yoon Pyung-joong suggested. The DP is also likely to respond positively as they are in dire need of a rationale to end their street protest and return to the Assembly, he said.
“Park has shown her ability to change during the presidential election by addressing the past and the authoritarian rule of her late father (former President Park Chung-hee). While a compromise may not be in the immediate horizon, talking with the opposition in itself can break the standoff symbolically.”