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Main parties remain stuck on ‘pro-North’ controversy

Senior lawmakers gather to seek compromise

Rival parties on Tuesday remained deadlocked over a “pro-North” controversy stoked by remarks by a Catholic priest last week seemingly defending North Korea’s deadly attack against South Korean territory in 2010.

The National Assembly’s Defense Committee tussled over the idea of adopting a statement denouncing priest Park Chang-shin, while the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party pointed the finger at each other for resorting to politicized issues.

The government, meanwhile, urged the prompt passage of next year’s budget, with observers warning that a delayed approval could cause an administrative freeze and the suspension of public spending of around 140 trillion won.

The Saenuri Party, for the time being, remained undecided but mostly pessimistic on the DP’s proposal to set up a special committee to discuss the opposition’s demand for a special probe into government agency interference in last year’s presidential election.

The rival parties continued to attack each other over the priest Park controversy.

At the Defense Committee meeting, the Saenuri Party members demanded a prompt adoption of the resolution against priest Park for denying the country’s territorial and sovereign rights, which the DP members opposed, saying that the comments were merely the statement of a personal view.

During the Friday Mass held to denounce the Park administration, Park Chang-shin suggested the North Korea attack was caused by the joint military exercise between South Korea and the U.S. near the disputed maritime border, prompting denouncement from the government.

“What good would the budget do when the security of the country is being rattled. We must adopt a resolution denouncing the statement,” said Saenuri Rep. Song Young-keun during a budget review session.

The Saenuri Party’s senior deputy floor leader Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun agreed.

“It has been a long time since the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice became a political force. The people want them to come out from behind the religious podium to clarify what is their true religion when they are blindly following the pro-North route.”

The DP, for its part, lambasted the strong responses led by President Park Geun-hye that the government has been making against the priest’s statement, claiming the ruling camp was attempting to benefit through an “anti-pro-North” campaign.

President Park had said Monday she would not tolerate any attempt to divide the people.

“It is the administration that is going berserk over the Mass when the people are calm about it. It is nothing but an attempt to overshadow the demand for a special probe and rally the conservatives,” said DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun.

DP senior deputy policymaker Rep. Moon Byeong-ho said, “An attempt to hide the essence by depicting criticism (against them) as being pro-North will only invite stronger opposition.”

As political deadlock was seen to be increasingly unwelcome by a frustrated public, 10 senior and reform-forward lawmakers of the main parties, along with vice Assembly speakers Lee Byung-suk and Park Byeong-seug, gathered over breakfast to seek a compromise.

They reportedly agreed that the current stalemate was caused by the lack of authority held by the ruling party over negotiations with the opposition, and the lack of leadership by a DP swayed by staunch members of the party.

“I felt that we still lack understanding toward each other... We will begin such dialogue between the parties and explain our discussion to the leaderships of each party,” said Saenuri Rep. Nam Kyung-pil after the meeting.

DP participant Rep. Woo Yoon-keun said, “The gathering was arranged to restore politics and increase communication between the parties. We agreed to add more weight to leadership in negotiations.”

The Saenuri Party, meanwhile, held an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council to consider the DP’s proposal for a special committee.

DP chairman Kim Han-gil had suggested Monday to form a four-member panel to discuss launching the special probe and a National Intelligence Service reform committee, ways to deal with the pending budget and major bills, and political reform including the abolishment of party nomination of local government heads.

Sources, however, said that the general sentiment within the Saenuri Party over the proposal was negative as it was connected to the debate over the legitimacy of President Park Geun-hye’s election win.

By Lee Joo-hee (