The ruling party and families of those killed in the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy are to hold a new set of negotiations on Sept. 1 over a bill aiming to set up investigations into the government for its botched rescue efforts on the day of the sinking.
The negotiations come after talks over the special Sewol bill between Saenuri Party lawmakers and families broke down twice last week due to disagreements over how much legal power should be given to investigators.
With families and Saenuri lawmakers expected to maintain their stances in the negotiations, the deadlock is likely to continue on Monday, halting all other operations in the National Assembly.
Families demand investigators be given extensive prosecutorial powers. They argue that without such powers, investigators would likely fail to thoroughly probe senior bureaucrats.
Saenuri lawmakers, on the other hand, say giving legal powers to a probe team partially appointed by victims would set a dangerous precedent. The special Sewol bill would allow families to name two members of a 17-member inquiry panel.
Public suspicion lingers that presidential staff and members of the National Intelligence Service misdirected rescuers during the recovery operations. Phone recordings disclosed in July, and other publicized government records, showed presidential staff fumbling with the exact number of dead and missing, hours after the accident. The records have only fanned mistrust of the government’s handling of the Sewol tragedy.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, meanwhile, began a boycott last week of all parliamentary affairs, halting operations at South Korea’s unicameral legislature. The boycott will continue until the governing party agrees to give in to the families’ demands, NPAD officials have said.
NPAD lawmakers have been leading street rallies with some of the victims’ families. On Saturday, NPAD floor leader and acting chair Rep. Park Young-sun led at least 2,000 people in a rally in Seoul, according to police.
“The special bill in no way aims to solely benefit the victims’ families,” Park said at the rally amid shouts of support. “This bill aims to prevent any one of us from becoming the next victim of a similar tragedy.”
Victims’ families have been conducting a separate sit-in near the presidential office in northern Seoul, demanding a face-to-face meeting with President Park Geun-hye.
Families at the sit-in urged Saenuri Party lawmakers to take a more open-minded approach in Monday’s meeting.
“(Saenuri lawmakers) say they will try to persuade us, instead of listening to our wishes,” said a mother who lost a son in the Sewol accident.
Saenuri lawmakers have not budged despite continued requests from the opposition and victims’ families to give investigators extensive prosecutorial powers. Saenuri lawmakers urged their NPAD colleagues to cease street rallies.
“It is time to end street politics and return to parliamentary politics,” Saenuri Rep. Park Dae-chul said Saturday.
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com)