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Published : 2014-05-11 20:35
Updated : 2014-05-11 21:14

The rival parties agreed Sunday to convene an extraordinary legislative session this month to discuss measures in the wake of the deadly ferry disaster and reorganize parliamentary standing committees.

They also agreed to ensure bipartisan cooperation in handling the nation’s worst maritime tragedy in two decades, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Reps. Lee Wan-koo and Park Young-sun, the new floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, announced the agreement after the first meeting since their election last Thursday.
Lee Wan-koo of the ruling Saenuri Party and Park Young-sun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy shake hands during a meeting at the Assembly building in Seoul, Sunday. (Yonhap)

Despite the cooperative mood on the surface, the agreement heralded a tough political battle ahead as the parties remain poles apart over contentious issues such as how to find the truth behind the maritime tragedy and reshape the committees to serve for the latter half of the four-year parliamentary term.

Under the agreement, the parties are to hold a plenary meeting of the National Assembly this week to initiate the extraordinary session that will stretch into July, and begin operating the committees concerned with legislative responses to the ferry disaster, on Monday.

The major bone of contention is how to get to the bottom of the ferry disaster.

The NPAD demands that a parliamentary probe and an independent counsel investigation should be carried out simultaneously to thoroughly look into the sinking of the ill-fated Sewol and bring to justice those responsible for what appeared to be a manmade catastrophe.

But Lee of the Saenuri Party presented a cautious stance, stressing legal procedural steps.

Lee said that the independent counsel probe law, which takes effect on June 19, will be invoked if prosecutors are found to lack political neutrality and when there is a parliamentary approval to launch a special investigation. As to the parliamentary probe, he said that there should be an agreement on that at the plenary session of the Assembly.

The election of the new hard-line floor leaders is expected to escalate partisan standoffs ahead of the local elections slated for June 4.

Park, a journalist-turned-politician, is well-known for her party role of attacking the ruling camp over a variety of politically charged issues including corruption allegations surrounding top government officials.

As soon as she was elected as the first female floor leader of a political party, Park stressed the opposition party’s role to “keep the ruling party and government in check.” She said, “People want an opposition party to stand tall before the government that failed to take proper care of them,” alluding to the ferry disaster.

Lee, a former governor of South Chungcheong Province is one of the prominent loyalists of President Park. He faces a Herculean task in helping the government shore up public trust, which has waned due to what critics argue was the “failed” responses to the ferry disaster.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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