No bipartisan agreement on how to conduct the Sewol investigation is in sight as of Thursday with party divisions stalling parliamentary probes into the maritime disaster.
The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are divided over when to invite government agency representatives potentially responsible for the bungled Sewol rescue operations for questioning.
Saenuri officials say hearings must begin by next Monday. Any more delay would politicize the investigations as campaigning for the July 30 by-elections commences.
NPAD legislators say they need time to conduct thorough examinations into related documents and the accident site before inviting government officials for questioning. The World Cup will also drive away public attention from the investigations, they say.
Navy, Coast Guard and Security and Public Administration Ministry officials are among those that could be called in.
Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the Saenuri Party, the chairman of parliament’s investigation panel, attempted on Wednesday to begin hearings “with or without” the opposition on June 23.
“We can begin by calling in defense, security and public administration, and education officials,” Shim said in an impromptu press briefing.
After opposition lawmakers held a press briefing one hour later to protest Shim’s unilateral decision, Shim withdrew his order. The NPAD claimed there had been no decision on which agency to bring in, and in what order.
Reps. Cho Won-jin and Kim Hyun-mee of the Saenuri Party and the NPAD respectively, will meet on Friday to iron out a potential hearing schedule.
But no breakthrough in the political deadlock seems in sight, with emotions running high.
Saenuri officials are especially angered at what they perceive to be the opposition’s attempt to hold the investigations hostage to the July 30 by-elections.
“I can clearly see what the opposition is trying to do (by postponing government agency hearings until next month),” Cho said. The NPAD is trying to use the probes in their election drives, the lawmaker added.
Although other larger political issues, such as the recent uproar over prime minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk, loom, the Sewol still will be a factor in the by-elections, Yoon Hee-woong of Min Consulting, a political consulting firm, said on Thursday.
“Politicians will not be able to avoid the issue during the elections.”
The July elections will decide which party wins the 14 vacant parliamentary seats. The opposition could take the majority in the National Assembly by winning the empty seats.
NPAD legislators are meanwhile frustrated at Rep. Shim’s leadership style.
“He’s pushing through this thing like a military operation,” Kim said. “I think during the rescue attempts was when we really needed a military operation.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)