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Tensions heighten ahead of first president-opposition chief meeting

Ruling party denounces main opposition’s plans to pass multiple contentious bills

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : April 28, 2024 - 15:27

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Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Park Ju-min is joined by members of civic groups and marine veterans at a press conference calling for an in-depth investigation into the death of a young marine in July last year, held at the National Assembly on Friday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Park Ju-min is joined by members of civic groups and marine veterans at a press conference calling for an in-depth investigation into the death of a young marine in July last year, held at the National Assembly on Friday. (Yonhap)

Tensions between the rival parties escalated Sunday ahead of the first-ever official meeting between President Yoon Suk Yeol and Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung over multiple pending and contentious bills slated for 2 p.m. Monday.

As the high-profile meeting unfolds amid substantial divisions between the ruling and main opposition parties on multiple fronts, considerable attention is directed toward which topics Lee will prioritize from a lengthy list of tasks during his talks with Yoon.

The ruling People Power Party publicly raised doubts about the sincerity of Lee's request for the meeting just a day before it is scheduled to take place.

"Prior to the general election (on April 10), Lee, under the banner of 'the people's livelihood,' had requested meetings with the president on eight occasions," said the People Power Party in a commentary conveyed through its spokesperson, Kim Min-soo.

"The entire nation will watch whether 'the people's livelihood' he has been advocating was sincere or if the talks were for a political conflict created by extreme self-interest that would bring ruin to the country," Kim added in the commentary.

Kim also denounced the main opposition party’s announcement on Friday to convene an extraordinary plenary session from April 30 to May 29, in a bid to pass several pending bills without the ruling party’s cooperation.

“(The Democratic Party) has again revealed its plan to destroy the spirit of cooperation within the parliament and to rule with dictatorship,” according to Kim.

“If you look closely into the main opposition’s plans involving the cash subsidies, the special bill for victims of housing scams and the revision to the Grain Management Act, it aims to rob money from future generations,” he argued.

Democratic Party Chair Rep. Lee has proposed to spend 13 trillion won ($9.43 billion) on emergency universal cash subsidies for households and 1 trillion won to ease the interest burden on small businesses.

Spokesperson for the Democratic Party Rep. Park Sung-joon reiterated on Sunday that the "people are demanding a significant shift in national policy from President Yoon Suk Yeol," emphasizing that Rep. Lee will convey this public sentiment to Yoon on Monday.

"It's now President Yoon Suk Yeol's turn to respond," Park said in a statement.

"I earnestly hope that tomorrow's meeting will mark a pivotal moment in restoring shattered livelihoods and overcoming the myriad crises facing the Republic of Korea," he added, using South Korea's official name.

Park also urged Yoon to "accept special prosecutor investigations to address various suspicions" surrounding the Yoon government and to refrain from vetoing measures passed by the National Assembly.

Democratic Party floor leader Hong Ihk-pyo on Friday highlighted his party’s plans to push forward with the pending bills and called for the ruling party’s support.

“We hope for the ruling party’s cooperation in the passing of several bills that failed to be dealt with (in the outgoing parliament), and even if the ruling party decides not to do so, we ask for their support for the National Assembly speaker to smoothly convene the extra plenary sessions by law,” Hong said.

The pending bills in question include a watered-down version of the previous revision to the Grain Management Act, requiring the government to purchase excess rice yields, which was vetoed by Yoon in April last year, a month after the opposition-led Assembly passed the bill.

Lee is set to speak with Yoon over tea at 2 p.m. at the presidential office in Yongsan-gu on Monday, in what will be the first meeting between the two rivals since the prosecutor-turned-president took office in May 2022. The presidential office suggested this meeting in a surprising turn of events on April 19, days after the general election.

The meeting’s agenda has yet to be officially announced, but Lee’s chief secretary, Rep. Cheon Jun-ho, told reporters that the opposition chief would “use the occasion to convey to the president the people’s message as expressed in the results of the assembly election.”

Observers say that with the main opposition party having won the majority in the Assembly for the next four years following the April 10 parliamentary election, Yoon must carefully cooperate with Lee to avoid becoming a lame duck for the remaining three years of his term.

The Democratic Party and its satellite, Democratic United Party, won a total of 175 or nearly two-thirds of the single-chamber, 300-seat Assembly through the latest parliamentary elections. The ruling People Power Party and its satellite, People Future Party, meanwhile, won 108 seats.