[Editorial] Politicizing disaster

By Korea Herald

Some groups seek to instigate protests

  • Published : May 9, 2014 - 21:28
  • Updated : May 9, 2014 - 21:28
Some political groups are intent on making political capital out of the heartbreaking Sewol ferry disaster.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is demanding that a parliamentary investigation be launched immediately to get to the bottom of the nation’s worst maritime disaster.

It is also calling for a public hearing on the tragedy and a parliamentary inspection of the public and private agencies involved in it. On top of that, it is pushing for the appointment of a special counsel to get to the heart of the matter.

An investigation into the manmade disaster by the parliament or a special counsel is necessary to enable lawmakers to write better bills aimed at preventing similar accidents from occurring in the future.

But now is not the right time, given that search and rescue operations for the missing passengers are still underway. The prosecutors’ investigation into the cause of the tragedy has not been finished either.

Behind the opposition party’s demand for an immediate parliamentary probe is the calculation that it would help the party win the upcoming June 4 local elections.

Through the investigation, the party would be able to highlight the government’s incompetence in dealing with the ferry disaster, which could cause some voters to turn their backs on the ruling party.

Some leftist political groups have gone much further in politically exploiting the ferry accident. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union has put on its website a video in memory of the student victims.

But the video is less intended to console the victims than to instigate student protests against the government. It likens the victims to Kim Ju-yeol, a student who was killed by a tear-gas shell in March 1960. The discovery of his body in Masan harbor triggered the April 19 Student Revolution.

It also compares them to Park Jong-chul, a student who was killed while being tortured in January 1987. His death touched off the June Democracy Movement.

The video attempts to provoke students to agitate against the incumbent government by asserting that the student victims were murdered by its incompetence.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has distributed leaflets at Paengmok Harbor on Jindo Island to incite anger toward President Park. The leaflets read, “Let your anger boil over” and “We don’t need such an ineffectual president.”

Some 100 women of an online group dubbed “Mother’s Yellow Handkerchief” picketed at the memorial altar set up in Ansan earlier this week, trying to stir up the victims’ families against the government. They urged them to take to the streets to express their sorrow and anger.

These groups are keen to inflame anger among the victims’ families and instigate protests against the government. But their wrongheaded moves simply impede national efforts to make the Sewol tragedy a genuine turning point for the nation. Partisan interests should be put aside in seeking a new paradigm for Korean society.