Families of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, who are still battling the agony of losing their loved ones, are stepping up their protest against politicians over the slow progress of the work to legislate a special act.
A group of the families began a hunger strike near the National Assembly on Monday. The hunger strike followed an overnight sit-in protest they staged over the weekend.
Their protest targets the ruling and opposition parties, which had been negotiating a special act that aims, among other things, to investigate the cause of the incident, provide compensation and overhaul the nation’s safety infrastructure.
In order to put pressure on the lawmakers, the Sewol victims’ families led a campaign to collect signatures for the enactment of the special law, signed which about 3.5 million people.
The families demand that the National Assembly legislate the special act by July 24, which will mark 100 days since the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16, and that the ruling and opposition parties agree to three-way talks with representatives of the families.
In view of the immensity of the disaster and the importance of things to be included in the act, the families’ demand is warranted. But the political parties, especially the ruling Saenuri Party, are opposed to some of the key demands of the families.
The ongoing parliamentary probe is also frustrating the still-grieving families. The inquiry, which had been hampered by frequent partisan confrontations, has hit a fresh snag.
The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy announced Monday that it was boycotting the inquiry, demanding ruling Saenuri lawmakers Shim Jae-chul and Cho Won-jin quit the parliamentary panel.
The NPAD claims that Shim abused his power as the panel’s chair to order the expulsion of protesting families during a recent session and that Cho compared the Sewol incident to avian influenza.
The standoff is the latest in a series of partisan strife over key elements of the envisaged special act. The NPAD largely supports the families’ opinions, while the ruling Saenuri Party opposes them.
One key issue pitting the ruling party on one side and the NPAD and families on the other is whether the proposed special commission should have the right to make criminal investigations and indictments.
Citing possible abuse of power, Saenuri insists that the special commission itself should not have any investigative rights. Instead, the ruling party proposes the appointment of an independent counsel or a special prosecutor not controlled by the Prosecutor General.
The ruling party’s position is ill-advised because without its own right to investigate, the commission would not be able to get to the bottom of the cause of the Sewol ferry sinking. The recent findings of the Board of Audit and Inspection that government negligence, lax safety inspections, botched rescue operations and corruption all combined to result in the loss of more than 300 lives necessitates a thorough investigation by an independent special commission.
The ruling party also proposed that the special commission should operate for six months, and if necessary, extend it by three months. Families demand at least two years, with a possible extension by one more year.
This is one more case of misguided obstinacy by the ruling party regarding the Sewol Special act. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it took about 20 months for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9-11 Commission, an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation, to make its report.
The ruling party should pay heed to what families say and stop making political calculations, which will only worsen their suffering.