Sewol investigation debate blocks 7,000 other bills

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 29, 2014 - 20:53
  • Updated : Jul 29, 2014 - 20:53
The partisan deadlock over legislation addressing the Sewol ferry disaster is stalling the passage of other bills, including those aiming to strengthen safety standards in the wake of multiple safety accidents this year.

As of Tuesday, more than 7,000 bills awaited parliamentary review.

But with parties locking horns over the so-called special Sewol bill, a full parliamentary session to convene lawmakers for a vote is still far off.

“Nope, no session seems near,” a Saenuri Party official said earlier Tuesday when asked if lawmakers were planning to hold a full session in the coming days.

The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are continuing negotiations over the much-disputed Sewol bill, which proposes creating a panel of inquiry to determine the cause of the Sewol sinking in the West Sea in April.

The parties are in a deadlock as Saenuri lawmakers oppose giving prosecutorial powers to the special panel.

Lawmakers met later Tuesday to discuss a potential compromise, saying that a full parliamentary session attended by all 285 lawmakers would be meaningless without a deal. Votes under such conditions would likely be stalled by a filibuster.

According to the National Assembly Act, lawmakers can conduct a filibuster if more than one-third of those present at a full session oppose the legislation of a certain bill.

A filibuster over the controversial Sewol bill would further delay the passage of other pending bills, many of which concern crucial issues that require swift action from lawmakers.

NPAD floor leader Rep. Park Young-sun last week threatened not to support other bills if Saenuri lawmakers did not give in to the opposition’s demands regarding the Sewol bill.

Experts say political contention is a fairly common strategy.

“Confrontation allows a party to draw clear distinctions it can then use as the basis of its (election) campaigns to return to power,” Frances E. Lee, professor of American politics at the University of Maryland, wrote in 2013.

But such a stance reduces the opposition’s chances of obtaining policy concessions or attracting votes from the other party, she added.

More than 30 amendments to safety laws are awaiting review. The amendments reflect rising public concerns over lax enforcement of safety rules, after a series of recent man-made disasters sounded alarms about the country’s broader safety systems.

The ferry disaster in April left 294 dead. Ten are still missing. Earlier this month, a rescue helicopter returning from the ferry accident site crashed, killing five firefighters.

A train crash in Gangwon Province last week killed one and injured more than 80. A fire in northern Gyeonggi Province in May killed another seven, while 10 were killed in February when a roof collapsed at a resort in South Gyeongsang Province.

By Jeong Hunny (