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Moderate lawmakers call for restraint amid Sewol deadlock

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Published : 2014-08-28 20:43
Updated : 2014-08-28 20:43

Moderate lawmakers criticized hardline party leaders on Thursday for escalating the deadlock over the special Sewol bill, stressing the need to attend to other urgent affairs in the National Assembly.

Monthslong partisan divisions over the special bill has indefinitely postponed annual parliamentary audits. More than 7,000 other bills affecting a wide range of daily issues also await legislative review.

Moderates are calling for a detente in the impasse over the Sewol bill to address these issues, accusing leaders of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy and the ruling Saenuri Party of worsening the situation.

NPAD leaders are directing a party boycott of all parliamentary affairs to pressure Saenuri legislators to form a trilateral body consisting of NPAD and Saenuri lawmakers, and families of those killed in the Sewol tragedy.

NPAD interim chief Rep. Park Young-sun has been leading hard-line lawmakers in street rallies in downtown Seoul since Tuesday.

A group of 15 NPAD lawmakers signed a petition Monday calling for party leaders to end the rallies and address outstanding issues at the National Assembly.

“I’ve been told it’s time to wrap up issues related to the (Sewol) accident by a lot of different sources,” said NPAD Rep. Baek Kun-ki, one of the signers of the petition.

The Saenuri Party has meanwhile been conducting unsuccessful negotiations on the special Sewol bill with family members of the victims of the Sewol tragedy.

Disagreements center on the special counsel that the special bill would form. The counsel will probe senior government officials for allegedly botching rescue operations on the day of the disaster. Families demand more say in appointing members of the special counsel, and that the counsel be given extensive powers.

Rep. Lee Jae-oh of the Saenuri Party said party leaders should take a more constructive attitude toward the special Sewol bill.

“We should give the bereaved families hope, not frustration,” the four-term lawmaker said, apparently criticizing party leaders for the lack of headway in talks with the families. Lee had further suggested President Park Geun-hye should hold a meeting with victims’ families. Park has refused to respond to repeated calls from relatives of those killed in the Sewol accident to meet and discuss the Sewol bill.

The preoccupation with the Sewol bill has caused all other functions of South Korea’s unicameral legislature to grind to a halt.

Parliamentary audits were set to begin Monday but did not kick off due to the partisan standoff over the Sewol bill. The indefinite postponement of the audits cost government bureaus millions of won in administrative costs, critics said. Lawmakers of the foreign affairs committee, for example, were forced to cancel travel plans to South Korean embassies.

Critics also charge that lawmakers are ignoring thousands of bills that await parliamentary review. The bills include amendments to existing safety laws that were drafted to address safety concerns in the wake of the Sewol accident.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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