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[Editorial] Partners in state affairs

Yoon, Lee should keep up momentum of first meeting to discuss pending issues, policies as partners

By Korea Herald

Published : April 30, 2024 - 05:30

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President Yoon Suk Yeol and main opposition Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Jae-myung sat down for talks on Monday for the first time since Yoon took office two years ago.

Lee began the meeting by listing a number of proposals including implementing his election pledge to give 250,000 won ($182) to every South Korean and accepting a special counsel investigation into suspicions surrounding a Marine's death.

"I ask that you consider the emergency measure to restore people's livelihoods, which was proposed by our Democratic Party," Lee said, referring to the cash handouts.

"I ask that you accept the special counsel investigation bill for Marine Chae and the special bill for the Itaewon tragedy," he said, referring to the 2022 Itaewon crowd crush that left 159 people dead.

Lee also stated his wish for the president to resolve "various allegations surrounding the people around you, including your family," apparently referring to first lady Kim Keon Hee.

Lee said the Democratic Party will cooperate with the government's medical reform such as increasing medical school enrollment as it is "a major task that must be implemented."

He said he expects to see good solutions if the rival parties and the medical community discuss it at the special parliamentary committee that his party has proposed.

The presidential office said the two leaders did not reach an agreement on the issues raised by Lee, but they shared a common understanding on some issues.

Yoon and Lee shared the view that medical reform was necessary and that increasing medical school enrollment was unavoidable, the president's senior secretary for public relations said in a press briefing after the 130-minute meeting.

The president and the Democratic Party leader also shared the recognition that the people's livelihood was the most important political and policy issue. But they also confirmed that they had differences on how to improve the people's livelihood.

About Lee's request to give 250,000 won to every South Korean, the president said that considering its impact on prices, interest rates and the government's fiscal condition, it would be desirable to effectively provide support for those who need more help. Yoon explained the government policies to support small business owners, expand low-interest loans for low-income earners and a special bill to assist the victims of home lease fraud. He said the government should first go ahead with these policies, and that the ruling and opposition parties can discuss whether to implement other proposals.

Monday’s talks served as an occasion for the two leaders to acknowledge each other as partners in state affairs. It is a good start that the president and the main opposition party leader shared a common understanding of the nation's pending issues. The two leaders agreed to meet again from time to time, and said that once the ruling party has its new leadership, the three can also hold talks.

Regarding pension reform, Lee said that as the parliamentary committee tasked with holding public discussions on the issue needs to decide on the direction of reform, he wished the government presented its views. Yoon said the government has already submitted enough data to the parliament so they can make a decision, the presidential aide said, adding that there will be further discussions on pension reform.

The most pressing issues now are the prolonged strike by trainee doctors and the passage of the pension reform bill next month. Yoon’s office and the Democratic Party leadership must cooperate to revise the national pension plan to make it sustainable in the long run. The rival parties should discuss which plan would work best for the nation's future, and pass the pension reform bill next month because if they don't, the 22nd National Assembly will have to start from square one. The ruling bloc and the main opposition party should keep up the momentum of Monday's talks, and work together to resolve pending issues.