The National Assembly has come to a halt as the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy lock horns over a special bill on Sewol.
The parliamentary audit of state organizations scheduled to begin Tuesday did not take place as the NPAD boycotted the National Assembly, demanding a tripartite negotiation ― which would include the families of Sewol ferry disaster victims ― over the Sewol bill. The Saenuri Party continued to reject the NPAD’s demand, maintaining that such a negotiation would shake the foundations of representative democracy. In the meantime, numerous bills ― including those on safety, corruption and economic revitalization ― await passage at the National Assembly.
President Park Geun-hye continues her resolute silence on the Sewol bill, not mentioning the issue during a meeting with Blue House senior secretaries Monday. Instead, she indirectly chided the opposition party for failing to pass other pending bills.
There are voices within the Saenuri Party urging the ruling party to step up to the plate and talk with the victims’ families and for the Blue House to play a role in resolving the impasse.
On Monday, Saenuri Party floor leader Lee Wan-koo met with the representatives of the Sewol victims’ families. Although the meeting came late and failed to bear any fruit, it is a start. It is encouraging that the two sides have agreed to meet again Wednesday.
Last Friday, Kim Young-oh, the father of a Sewol victim, was taken to the hospital as his health deteriorated after 40 days on hunger strike. On the same day, Park visited a traditional market in Busan, apparently one of her favored ways to take the nation’s pulse. Since her inauguration 18 months ago, she has made seven visits to traditional markets. That is roughly one visit every 11 weeks.
On May 16, Park invited the families of the Sewol ferry sinking victims to the Blue House and pledged to listen to them. That was more than 14 weeks ago. Kim’s request for a meeting with Park last Wednesday was turned down the following morning by the Blue House spokesperson. The next day Park was in Busan.
As the leader of the nation, Park cannot continue her silence on the Sewol special bill: She would be shirking her duty to lead. With the political parties at an impasse and the families demanding to meet with the president, Park holds the key to a resolution of the current situation. The longer she waits, the more difficult the situation will become.
It is not enough for the president to criticize the politicians for their failures. She can play a crucial role in resolving the current debacle. She can start by meeting with the Sewol victims’ families and listening to them, as she promised.