It is deeply disappointing that the three-way talks on Monday between President Park Geun-hye and the leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party ended without any agreement.
The meeting was arranged to resolve the ongoing political impasse and bring good news before the Chuseok holidays. But the political leaders failed to send a message of hope to a nation weary of partisan wrangling.
During the 90-minute talks at the National Assembly, Park and DP leader Kim Han-gil simply confirmed that they were poles apart on thorny issues. If anything, the meeting widened, rather than narrowed, the distance between the two camps.
After the talks, which were also attended by Saenuri chairman Hwang Woo-yea, the DP resolved to step up its street protests. Kim returned to his tent set up in the plaza in front of Seoul City Hall to continue his “struggle for democracy.”
The party’s hardened stance is profoundly worrisome, as it will mean a prolonged parliamentary paralysis. The National Assembly opened on Sept. 2 for a 100-day regular session but has since done virtually nothing amid partisan gridlock.
One reason Park decided to hold the meeting was the need to enlist cooperation from the DP in passing her reform bills through the Assembly. As the talks have ended in acrimony, however, we cannot help but wonder how she will tackle the legislative challenge.
Park and Kim differed on the three key issues. The first concerned the allegations that the National Intelligence Service meddled in the December presidential election. Kim demanded that Park apologize for the affair and leave the task of reforming the NIS to the National Assembly.
Park refused to apologize, saying that the spy agency’s alleged intervention was carried out under the previous government without her knowledge. She also rejected most of Kim’s reform proposals.
Another burning issue involved Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook, who has been alleged to have fathered a child out of wedlock in 2002. Chae dismissed the allegations as untrue, but offered to resign after the Ministry of Justice launched an internal probe into the allegations.
Kim alleged that Cheong Wa Dae sought to disgrace Chae and force him out of office, as he had refused to follow its instructions in investigating the NIS. To the dismay of the Blue House, prosecutors concluded that the NIS had systematically intervened in the presidential election.
Park dismissed Kim’s allegations, saying that the Justice Ministry launched an investigation into Chae simply because suspicions about his unethical behavior continued to spread, undermining the public’s trust in the prosecution as a whole.
Economic democratization was also high on the agenda. Kim questioned Park’s commitment to the task, while she reaffirmed her pledge to level the playing field for all economic agents.
The Monday meeting was intended to narrow the differences between the two sides on these and other pending issues. Now they remain as far apart as ever. The main reason for their failure to reach a compromise was that they put partisan one-upmanship before national interests.
Political leaders should realize that their inability to resolve the current standoff will ultimately damage the fragile economic recovery. They should act based on a strong sense of responsibility.