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Park, party leaders to meet Thursday to discuss controversial history textbooks

  President Park Geun-hye and the leaders of the rival parties agreed Tuesday to meet after a day of tug-of-war between Cheong Wa Dae and the main opposition party over the meeting’s scope and format amid burgeoning controversy over the government’s push to issue state-authored textbooks.

Park and leaderships from the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy will hold a meeting Thursday to discuss pending issues, including the controversial adoption of the state textbooks that the NPAD had criticized as biased.

Attending the meeting will be Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung and NPAD chairman Moon Jae-in along with both parties’ whips, Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the Saenuri Party and Rep. Lee Jong-kul of the NPAD. The meeting will also cover the government’s policy to overhaul the labor market and business sectors, and inter-Korean relations. 

“Chairman Moon and floor leader Lee will meet with President Park and the Saenuri Party leadership to have a broad discussion over the issues that are related to the government management. Particularly, the meeting will be an in-depth discussion over textbooks, the economy, inter-Korea relations and labor reform,” said the NPAD spokesperson Kim Sung-soo. 

South Korea`s President Park Geun-hye. Yonhap
South Korea`s President Park Geun-hye. Yonhap
The agreement came after Cheong Wa Dae and the NPAD disagreed over the size and nature of the meeting — reportedly proposed Monday by Hyun Ki-hwan, senior presidential secretary, during his meeting with leaders of the rival parties.

The NPAD agreed to the presidential office’s proposal to include both parties’ leaders and their whips to focus on labor reforms and the passage of economic-related bills, an issue that Park had urged lawmakers to take on and sign into law.

The NPAD had demanded a more concise setup — of Park, the ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Moo-sung and Rep. NPAD leader Moon Jae-in — to address the president about her attempt to adopt state-authored textbooks. In response to the NPAD’s request, Cheong Wa Dae reiterated its version of the meeting.

Meeting with the chairmen of major parties has been customary protocol for the president upon returning from overseas trips. Park returned from her U.S. visit on Sunday.

Park has often used the occasions to navigate through political impasses.

In 2013, Park held her first meeting with the major party leaders as president when she was embroiled in an election scandal following allegations that the former National Intelligence Service chief ordered his staff to smear Moon, then her liberal opponent, as a North Korean sympathizer during her campaign.

Most recently, she invited Kim and Moon to the presidential office this March after Moon took over as NPAD chairman. Then, there were allegation that her close aide illegally interfered with the presidential office’s decision-making process.

The ruling Saenuri Party, for its part, criticized the NPAD’s demand for a three-way meeting, saying that the NPAD might divert the people’s attentions away from important economic issues and use the forum for political bickering.

“Currently, the controversy over the textbooks is so intense. I am afraid the (trilateral) meeting would be more about partisan standoff, not improving the people’s livelihoods,” said Saenuri Party whip Rep. Won Yoo-chul.

Meanwhile, rival parties on Tuesday also agreed to hold a meeting between their leaders after the Saenuri Party’s request earlier in the day that the two sides find ways to resolve the political deadlock that it claimed was preventing the lawmakers from dealing with pressing issues such as the passage of pending bills.

The Saenuri Party has been skeptical of the meeting out of concern that the NPAD, consumed with textbook issues, would use the forum for their political attacks. NPAD whip Rep. Lee Jong-kul had requested a similar bilateral meeting the day before.

“Regardless of the agenda and format, we are more than willing to accept any proposal to bring the National Assembly back on track and improve the people’s livelihood,” said Rep. Lee Choon-Suak, the NPAD vice floor leader. 

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)

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