The ruling and main opposition parties failed to kick off a planned plenary session Wednesday morning, casting a cloud over the prospect to work on the “special Sewol bill” drawn up to investigate the April 16 ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.
The National Assembly was set to hold a plenary session at 10 a.m. to process the bill along with a host of other bills and issues, but the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy refused to agree to open the session.
At the heart of the deadlock was the issue of renegotiating the Sewol bill.
Under the agreement reached Aug. 7, the committee for reviewing the Sewol incident would not be given investigative powers, despite the initial demand from the victims’ families and NPAD lawmakers.
The opposition’s compromise offer of giving the committee or the opposition party the sole say in selecting the special counsel to lead the investigation was also rejected in the agreement.
Under related regulations, the special counsel is picked by the president from candidates nominated by the ruling and opposition parties.
The deal sparked fierce criticism and resistance from opposition lawmakers and family members of the victims, prompting the NPAD to demand a renegotiation from the ruling party. But the demand was immediately dismissed by the Saenuri Party, which accused the opposition of breaking the political “code of conduct.”
Instead of holding the plenary session, the ruling party called a general meeting of lawmakers to discuss the issues.
At the meeting, floor leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo, who hammered out the agreement with NPAD interim leader Rep. Park Young-sun, said that giving the committee investigative powers would undermine Korea’s entire legal system.
“I think that the ruling-opposition agreement on the Sewol bill was very well done,” Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung said at the meeting. He also said Lee “made no mistakes and showed no incompetence” in negotiating with the NPAD, effectively ruling out reopening the issue.
The NPAD, for its part, continued to demand a renegotiation.
“The ruling party should not simply observe a situation (as an outsider); instead, it has to take responsibility not only for the operations of the parliament but also that of state affairs,” Rep. Park said Wednesday, calling on the ruling party to open negotiations.
“Absolute satisfaction cannot exist in a negotiation. This is a time when we need to find a point of balanced dissatisfaction.”
Park also denied media reports that her party plans to link the Sewol bill to other pending legislations in order to force the Saenuri Party back to the negotiating table.
The delay in opening the parliament is likely to hamper the handling of key revision bills involving the Government Organization Act and special college admission to high school students affected by the Sewol accident.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)