The National Assembly is to open an extraordinary session soon as the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to immediately start parliamentary discussion of the problems related to the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry.
The two parties’ new floor leaders, Rep. Lee Wan-koo of the ruling Saenuri Party and Park Young-sun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, announced Sunday that they had also agreed to make bipartisan efforts to get to the bottom of the tragedy, punish those responsible, and prevent the recurrence of similar disasters.
Under the agreement, the nine standing committees related to the maritime disaster, including the Security and Public Administration Committee, have already convened to discuss follow-up measures.
The two floor leaders, who were both elected on Thursday, however, failed to agree on the agenda for the session, which is to run through the end of June.
The NPAD wants to launch a flurry of investigations into the tragedy immediately. It is calling for a parliamentary probe, a separate independent counsel investigation, a parliamentary hearing and a parliamentary inspection of the government.
The ruling party is against starting all these investigative activities now, saying that doing so would offend the victims’ families, some of which are still desperately waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be retrieved.
So it has urged the NPAD to wait until the ongoing search and rescue operations are finished.
Given the large number of burning questions regarding the tragedy, a parliamentary investigation, either by lawmakers or by an independent counsel or by both, is definitely necessary.
And given the scope of reforms that need to be undertaken to prevent similar tragedies from happening again, a parliamentary hearing and an inspection of the government may also be necessary.
But it makes little sense to pursue all these investigative activities immediately. Doing so would only distract the government and make it more difficult to address the problems exposed by the tragedy.
What is required from lawmakers is not a rush to launch multiple investigations, but a calm, thorough analysis of the problems and a search for the right solutions from a long-term perspective.
To tackle the problems without bias, lawmakers must also work in a bipartisan spirit.
If the NPAD insists on a prompt launch of multiple investigations, it will only raise the suspicion that it is seeking to politically exploit the national tragedy. The party needs to resist the urge to use the disaster to its benefit in the June 4 local elections.
Lee and Park are responsible for the smooth operation of the National Assembly over the next year. They made a good start by agreeing to take a bipartisan approach to handling the Sewol ferry disaster. They should maintain this cooperative attitude throughout their tenure.
In running the Assembly, they should not repeat the folly of pushing it into a protracted impasse. Now is the time for lawmakers to pool their wisdom to console the public and help the nation cope with the challenges posed by the manmade disaster.