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Assembly restarts ferry bill task force

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Published : 2014-07-21 20:31
Updated : 2014-07-21 20:31

An extraordinary parliamentary session started Monday but rival political parties failed to work out their differences over a special bill aimed at identifying the causes of April’s ferry disaster.

The new session, which will run through Aug. 19, comes after both ruling and opposition parties failed to reconcile their conflicting views on the bill, missing the agreed-upon deadline of Thursday, the last day of the previous extra session.

The “special Sewol bill” proposes setting up an inquiry panel consisting of lawmakers and experts to attempt to find out why the 6,800-ton ferry Sewol sank in the West Sea.
Family members of the victims killed in the April ferry disaster continue their hunger strike in downtown Seoul. The bereaved families have been protesting the National Assembly’s failure to pass the so-called special Sewol bill. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

But a partisan battle over whether to give the panel prosecutorial powers resulted in another deadlock, casting a cloud over the bill’s much-delayed passage.

Earlier Monday, Rep. Park Young-sun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and Rep. Lee Wan-koo of the ruling Saenuri Party ― floor leaders of rival parties ― met to resolve the partisan disagreement, only to confirm their differing views.

Prosecutorial powers are legal powers usually reserved for law enforcement officials, such as the right to ask courts for search warrants and summoning individuals for questioning.

Victims’ families and the opposition approve giving the panel such powers. The inquiry team will need prosecutorial authority to accurately identify the causes of the ferry accident, they say.

The Saenuri Party officials flatly reject such plans. They argue that giving an inquiry panel prosecutorial powers would create a dangerous precedent and possibly even go against the country’s constitution.

Despite the breakdown in talks, Reps. Park and Lee did agree to restart a bipartisan task force originally assigned to writing the bill and to pass on all negotiating powers regarding the Sewol bill to the original drafters.

After beginning to write the bill on July 11, the bipartisan task force broke down last week due to the issue of giving the inquiry team prosecutorial powers.

Opposition floor leader Park said she hoped to pass the bill by Thursday, but forecasts suggest a smooth passage of the bill is unlikely.

Public pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill has been high with victims’ families conducting a hunger strike in front of the National Assembly complex and downtown Seoul to protest the delay.

“We’re merely asking for an unequivocal inquiry to find out why our children died,” a family member said.

Under the pressure, senior lawmakers last week had agreed to open another extraordinary session to pass the special Sewol bill and other pending legislation. The session began Monday and will continue until next month.

Lawmakers and President Park Geun-hye had originally promised victims’ families that the special law would be passed by July 16. But partisan disagreements have held the bill in limbo, angering victims’ relatives.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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