The impasse over a special law on uncovering the truth behind the Sewol ferry disaster is another sobering example of politicians’ dismal performance. Yet, it should be noted that at the root of the debacle is a lack of trust and communication.
On Wednesday night, the families of the victims of the Sewol disaster rejected the second compromise deal hammered out between the ruling Saenuri Party and the leading opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, after weeks of wrangling.
Under the deal, the victims’ families would decide whether to approve the Saenuri Party’s choice of two members to the seven-member panel tasked with choosing the special counsel ― under the current law, such a panel is composed of the Justice vice minister, the National Court Administration vice minister, the Korean Bar Association president, and four members recommended by the National Assembly. The panel recommends two candidates to the president, who then decides on the special counsel.
In rejecting the deal, the families maintained their earlier demand that the committee charged with examining the accident be given power to investigate and indict. They also demanded that the Saenuri Party not be allowed to make selections for the panel that would recommend the special counsel.
Meanwhile, as the stalemate over the so-called Sewol special law continues, the National Assembly has come to a halt. It has not been able to deliberate on a single bill since May. The 93 bills pending on the floor include those aimed at preventing tragedies like the Sewol ferry sinking as well as bills related to the economy.
There are growing suggestions that the victims’ families should accept the compromise and allow the nation to move on. However, it should be remembered that what lies at the root of the families’ rejection of the deal is the fear that the accident that claimed the lives of their loved ones will not be investigated properly, and that those responsible for the death of more than 300 people will not be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
That fear, in turn, is fed by the families’ distrust of the authorities. Looking at the proceedings of the National Assembly hearings on the accident, this distrust is understandable. Perhaps the families had lost all trust in the authorities in the first few days of the accident when they mishandled the rescue operations.
Trust is hard to gain, especially when one of the parties has little power and much to lose. But that should not deter one from making sincere efforts. After all, trust is something that is earned, not freely given.
Both the ruling and opposition parties should make sincere attempts to listen to the families. They are not sophisticated politicians familiar with the wheeling and dealing of politics. They are grieving families who simply want to know the truth behind the deaths of their loved ones.
Kim Yeong-ho, the father of a Sewol victim, submitted a written application to meet with President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday ― the 38th day of his ongoing hunger strike.
On Thursday morning, the Blue House spokesperson said that the Sewol special law was an issue for political parties, not something in which the president should get involved. With that statement, the Blue House effectively refused the meeting with Kim.
Although the Blue House claims that it would be imprudent for the Blue House to take a position on the Sewol special law, that argument rings hollow in light of the promise Park made to the Sewol victims’ families three months ago: That she would listen to them.