Opposition in shambles after Sewol bill fiasco

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Aug 21, 2014 - 20:51
  • Updated : Aug 21, 2014 - 21:03
Family members of those killed in the April ferry disaster demanded on Thursday that parties scuttle the latest compromise over a special bill authorizing probes into the government over the Sewol accident.

The families’ demands could weaken public support for the so-called “special Sewol bill” and the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, reports and data showed.

The NPAD agreed to a compromise over the Sewol bill with the ruling Saenuri Party on Tuesday, ending weeks of political deadlock.

But victims’ families called for an overhaul of the accord, saying a key clause in the bill still did not guarantee a fair investigation into the ferry accident. This is the second time victims’ relatives have asked lawmakers to nullify a bipartisan agreement over the Sewol bill.

With the families opposing the current bipartisan deal, the ongoing political impasse is likely to continue.

Critics who say the families are paralyzing the National Assembly have gained more supporters, with more than 7,000 other key bills awaiting parliamentary approval.

“Please, let’s stop this debate over the Sewol,” read one much-circulated Internet comment.

“The bereaved families must show restraint and patience,” an editorial in a right-leaning newspaper read on Thursday.

Parties on Tuesday had agreed to form a panel of inquiry and a separate prosecution team to investigate senior officials alleged to have botched follow-up rescue operations. More than 300 of the 476 passengers on board were killed or remain missing.
NPAD lawmakers meet Rep. Moon Jae-in (second from left) who went into a hunger strike on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The compromise allowed the NPAD and victims’ families to appoint nine members of the 17-member inquiry panel. The NPAD and victims’ families also attained veto rights over Saenuri lawmakers in appointing members of the prosecution team. President Park Geun-hye however has the final say on appointing the head prosecutor ― a sticking point the families are citing as their source of discontent.

Recent polls conducted by Gallup Korea showed public support for the special bill could be waning.

About 25 percent of those surveyed last week said the government should prioritize addressing economic problems such as unemployment and growth. Only 6 percent answered that addressing issues related to the Sewol accident was more important.

The deadlock presents Rep. Park Young-sun, the NPAD’s acting chair and the opposition’s key negotiator of the Sewol bill, with an uphill battle experts consider to be a litmus test of her leadership skills.

Park rose to the acting chairmanship after South Korea’s main opposition party suffered a landslide defeat to the Saenuri Party in the July by-elections, with the governing party stealing 11 of the 15 contested electorates.

But she has been unable to mount any solid policy initiatives after rising to the chairmanship earlier this month.

The NPAD has mournfully watched its approval ratings fall to 23 percent as of Aug. 14 according to Gallup Korea, from a high of 31 percent in mid-June, while Park has been stuck in endless talks regarding the special Sewol bill since becoming acting chair. Her failure to find an endgame to the current impasse will only encourage growing in-house voices blaming Park for failing to legislate the Sewol bill, analysts said.

By Jeong Hunny (