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Park urges support for reforms

Opposition leader assails president on economy, N.K. ties in 3-way talks

President Park Geun-hye urged leaders of rival parties to support her reform initiatives on the public and labor sectors on Tuesday as part of her government’s renewed drive for economic growth, including an all-out war on corruption.

Main opposition leader Rep. Moon Jae-in, however, blasted Park’s overall economic policies during a three-way meeting at Cheong Wa Dae ― the Blue House ― that her measures have failed to improve people’s livelihoods and have left the economy in “great danger.”

Park met with the leaders of the two main parties to seek support for her reform drive, which has stalled amid political wrangling between ruling and opposition party lawmakers.

The president asked ruling Saenuri chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung and New Politics Alliance for Democracy leader Rep. Moon Jae-in to help her reform package receive parliamentary endorsement this year, the midpoint of her five-year term that ends in early 2018.

Park had invited the two leaders for a meeting last week to discuss the achievements from her recent trip to the Middle East.

“I wish that the two leaders (of the main two parties would) help us build the foundation for (another) economic development by linking the outcome and achievements from the trip,” Park said during the meeting. “Partnership with the political (parties) is essential,” she added.

But the opposition leader lashed out at Park’s overall economic policies, stressing that they lack fundamental and long-term elements to raise the real disposable income level of Korean households.

“The president has tried to revive the people’s livelihood after taking great pains, but the government’s economic policies have failed to improve their quality of life,” he said. “(The) South Korean economy is in all-around crisis.”
President Park Geun-hye talks with New Politics Alliance for Democracy chairman Moon Jae-in (right) and Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung at Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye talks with New Politics Alliance for Democracy chairman Moon Jae-in (right) and Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung at Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Park’s meeting with the political leaders drew public attention as it was Park’s first face-to-face meeting with Moon, her former presidential election rival, since 2012.

Since taking over the party’s chairmanship last month, Moon has been intensifying his criticism against Park’s economic and welfare policies.

The opposition leader urged Park to revise her economic policies and pursue economic growth by raising the minimum wage, establishing a fair tax system and stabilizing prices in Korea’s long-term leasing system.

On inter-Korean relations, Moon also asked the president to hold a summit with the North Korean leader this year. NPAD will fully support Park if she makes the move, Moon said.

Park’s hosting of the three-way meeting was seen as an attempt to cast off her uncommunicative image and request bipartisan support for her reform drive and pending economy-related bills.

While presiding over the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Park said, “We need to take stern action against the corruptive practices that have accumulated not only in the defense industry, but also in other sectors of our society.”

Park’s remark, delivered in an unusually strong tone, came amid ongoing investigations into the defense industry over graft allegations and into private companies suspected of creating slush funds. Her comments followed Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo’s statement last week to fight against corruptive cases, both in the public and the private sector.

The president labeled corruption as a stumbling block for economic revitalization, as well as for her reform drive.

“For a long time, I have been thinking that we must eradicate such practices at all costs. To revive the economy, we cannot leave corruption as it is,” she said.

“If we achieve economic growth without correcting corruptive practices, it will be like spinning wheels (that don’t move forward),” she added.

The president called for an early implementation of reform in the public sector and labor market by next month, as well as a revamp of the public servants’ pension system.

A group of politicians, union workers and experts launched a national committee to start a discussion on the reform of the civil servants’ pension program. Park said “meaningful progress” has been made with the group starting the discussion and she hopes lawmakers can reach an agreement and work on the bill’s legislation.

The president also urged ministers to push ahead with the reform drive, reiterating that it is required to achieve sustainable economic growth and for future generations.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo declared an “all-out war” on corruption and vowed to root out irregularities by mobilizing all possible resources. In 2014, Park said she would have the Prime Minister lead her reform drive aimed at eliminating corruptive practices and breaking down unnecessary regulations in four sectors: labor, education, finance and public office.

Authorities have been expanding probes into irregularities, including the military procurement process and alleged embezzlement into a construction unit of steel giant POSCO.

Three subcontractors for POSCO Engineering and Construction were raided by the prosecution and a former naval chief was questioned on Tuesday. The raid occurred over the allegation that he received bribes in exchange for conniving in the illegal transactions of parts from a domestically developed salvage ship in 2009.

By Cho Chung-un (