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Assembly back in business

But discord expected despite Sewol pact

The National Assembly began sailing forward Wednesday after the latest compromise between rival parties, but stormy weather could await according to analysts, as a slew of thorny issues have yet to be worked out.

South Korea’s main opposition party ended its boycott of the national legislature on Tuesday, breaking a months-long parliamentary deadlock that had sparked fierce public criticism of legislators for neglecting their regular duties.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has been sitting out all sessions of the Assembly since August to protest the governing Saenuri Party’s stance on the special Sewol bill.

With the compromise deal over the bill between floor leaders of the two major parties, the NPAD returned to the legislature late Tuesday.

But the road ahead will be filled with rough patches, largely because Tuesday’s compromise over the special bill requires further handshakes between parties in order to be finalized.

NPAD spokesman Rep. Park Beom-kye said the deal was not the end of talks over the special bill, but only the beginning.

“I’d like to state unequivocally that today’s agreements are not the end, but the start of discussions over the special Sewol bill.”

The special bill proposes setting up a probe into allegations that the government botched rescue efforts during the sinking of the Sewol in April, failing to save many of the 304 who died or went missing. Most of the victims were teenagers from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.

The main parties have engaged in a tug-of-war over the bill since July. The latest agreements were seen as a defeat to the opposition, as critics blamed the NPAD’s boycott as the cause of the recent political impasse.

Tuesday’s agreements stipulate the main parties will appoint four candidates to lead the probe. An appointing committee will select two final candidates, while President Park Geun-hye will ultimately choose the lead investigator from the final pool of nominees. Families of those killed in the accident could have some say in choosing members of the appointing committee.

“The lead prosecutor of the special prosecution will be an individual with neutral political leanings,” the accords read.

Experts said the unclear wording leaves room for lawmakers to bicker over a particular candidate’s credentials, suggesting further wars of words could delay the investigation and other parliamentary affairs.

Families of the 249 Danwon High School students killed in the accident also opposed the deal, saying the lead prosecutor would likely be heavily influenced by senior government officials as the president and the ruling party had a large say in selecting the person to fill the position.

But analysts predict the upcoming parliamentary audits of the government will proceed as planned, even if the NPAD and Saenuri Party lock horns over choosing the lead investigator.

South Korea’s unicameral legislature does an annual audit of the executive branch of the government. This year’s proceedings were postponed, however, due to the partisan deadlock over the special Sewol bill.

“The audits will be the main opposition party’s chance to regain public confidence,” said Yun Seong-yi, professor of Korean politics at Kyung Hee University.

“But I doubt the audits will be thorough enough, with so many other things to do at the National Assembly.”

The deadlock over the special bill has left normal legislative duties untended, leaving lawmakers with a lengthy to-do list for the rest of the year.

The parliament must review the 2015 government budget by Nov. 30 in accordance with the National Assembly Act, while lawmakers must also review over 7,000 draft bills that have been left pending during the standstill over the special Sewol bill. The bills include important international agreements such as the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

By Jeong Hunny (