Just about two months after the Moon Jae-in administration was inaugurated, activity in the legislature seems to have died, and cooperation with the administration looks nonexistent.
An extra session began Tuesday, but the first meeting was not held. Opposition parties boycotted it, and the ruling party gave up on opening the meeting alone.
Speaker Chung Sye-kyun met with floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties Monday to resolve the conflict over minister nominations, but their meeting went nowhere. Chung used his authority to introduce a supplementary budget bill to the related subcommittee, but the meeting was adjourned due to the opposition parties’ boycott. The bill was not tabled to the subcommittee for debate, with the ruling and opposition parties set on a collision course.
Confrontation with opposition parties, which has stalled the parliament, has been caused to a large extent by President Moon and the ruling party.
Moon appointed Kim Sang-kon as education minister despite strong objection from opposition parties. Choo Mi-ae, leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, has made the People’s Party turn its back to the ruling party with her blistering attacks over false accusations during the campaign period from the People’s Party against Moon’s son.
The two major conservative parties -- Liberty Korea Party and the Bareun Party -- have vowed to boycott all parliamentary sessions this month if Moon appoints Song Young-moo and Cho Dae-yeop as defense and labor ministers, respectively. They have objected to Kim, Song and Cho, citing plagiarism, suspected influence peddling over defense contracts and delayed payment of wages, among other allegations.
The People’s Party initially decided to deal with nominee confirmations separately from the budget bill, and cooperated with the ruling party to adopt a confirmation report on Kim. But the party later decided to boycott those sessions after Choo bashed the party.
In the stalled parliament, it is not wise of the leader of the ruling party to continue criticizing an opposition party that was amicable to it.
Of course, the fabrication of evidence that Moon influenced a public agency into hiring his son is the fault of the People’s Party.
Its internal probe concluded the scam was committed by a rank-and-file member without accomplices, though suspicions of a cover-up linger.
For whatever reason, hard evidence showing the party leadership was involved in the scheme has not been found.
In a situation where she has to calmly watch the ongoing investigation, it was inappropriate for her to say the internal probe was an attempt to “cut off the head” of the party from the scandal. She was arguing that party leaders may have known about the fabrication, but the nuanced expression enraged the party.
When the People’s Party demanded she apologize for the remark, she raised the level of her verbal attacks, saying, “the scam differs little from a past election intervention by intelligence agents.”
She also raised suspicion of “willful negligence” by the leadership of the opposition party, which criticized her of trying to influence the investigation.
If the ruling party wants the People’s Party to cooperate, Choo should refrain from making such aggressive remarks.
Even some members of the Democratic Party said they were concerned about her tough talk deepening confrontation.
It is doubtful she is willing to find a political breakthrough in the current standoff.
If the ruling party leader keeps dealing with opposition parties this way, the “politics through cooperation” that Moon needs from the opposition-controlled parliament cannot be achieved.
As long as the Assembly is deadlocked, government bills, including the budget, will only gather dust.
Moon reportedly will invite ruling and opposition party leaders to the presidential office to brief them on his achievements at the recent G-20 summit. He could utilize the occasion as a chance to resolve conflicts.
The thing is to listen to the opposition parties, not to make one-sided arguments.
If Moon thinks that swearing his nominees into office is just fine now that he is past the deadline for feedback on confirmation hearings and, among other factors, because his approval ratings are high, it will only deepen the confrontation with the opposition parties.
To get them to cooperate, Moon must exercise patience and seek a compromise, even if he thinks the opposition parties have gone too far in their demands.