The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Excessive offense

Democratic Party must not try to make a political scapegoat of Itaewon tragedy

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 10, 2022 - 05:30

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Yang Kyung-sook, a Democratic Party of Korea member of the National Assembly, said during the Assembly's inspection of the presidential secretariat Tuesday that the Yoon Suk-yeol administration cornered many young people into a deadly situation in Itaewon.

She likened the Yoon government to those who gripped military power and mobilized troops to massacre civilians in Gwangju in 1980.

Yang probably made the remark to rebuke the absurd government response to the Itaewon crowd crush that killed 156 people, but her argument to the effect that the government cornered people into their deaths went too far. It is an irresponsible remark apparently to curry favor with hard-line supporters of the party or to instigate the people. This kind of argument will not only becloud the nature of the tragedy by fueling political strife, but it will also be of little help to efforts to uncover the truth about the accident and punish those responsible.

A text message that Moon Jin-seog, another National Assembly member of the party, was photographed reading on his cellphone a day earlier is controversial, too. Moon chairs the strategic planning committee of the party.

The text was sent by Lee Yeon-hee, vice president of the Institute for Democracy, a think tank affiliated with the party. Part of the message reads: "The list of all of those who lost their lives in the Itaewon Halloween accident, their photos, their profiles and their poignant stories have not been disclosed, though the official mourning period has passed. The party must secure them by hook or by crook, for example, by contacting families of the deceased, and announce them. It is urgent to make a space to memorialize them."

The party seems to be trying to exploit the tragic accident for political gain while looking away from the sorrow gripping the bereaved families.

Most of the families want their deceased loved ones to remain unidentified. Their privacy must be respected. The message raises suspicions that the party is trying to whip up public fury at the Yoon government as it did for the Park Geun-hye administration over the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry that left 304 people dead or missing.

Moon said the message was a "private conversation," but it is questionable if the text sent by a vice president of the party's institute to the chairperson of the party's strategic planning committee should be overlooked as a private matter. It's difficult for the party to avoid criticism it tried to use the sorrow of bereavement politically.

Hwang Un-ha, a Democratic Party member of the Assembly, and Kim Ou-joon, a pro-Democratic Party host of a TBS talk show on current issues, argued that the Yoon government's "war on drugs" is one of the causes behind the Itaewon disaster because those who assign the police officers were obsessed with drug investigation, and that Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon should be held responsible accordingly. This is sophistry. Han's criticism that they are "professional conspiracy theorists" does not sound unjustified. Police officers dispatched to Itaewon to crack down on drug crimes performed duties completely different from officers in charge of public safety. Furthermore, the police come within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Naturally, an opposition party must dig up problems in government preventive systems and responses after such a tragedy. But it must not use it to jerk the government around.

Even as the police investigation is underway, the party pushes for a parliamentary inspection of the accident and the appointment of a special counsel. The party seems to be intended to politicize the accident to its taste on the back of its large majority in the Assembly. A special counsel investigation would not be late even if it is launched after loose ends are found in the police investigation and the prosecution's supplementary investigation.

Now is the time to watch the ongoing investigation and strengthen safety systems to prevent another disaster from happening. The Democratic Party must not try to make a political scapegoat of the tragedy.