In Sewol We Divide

August 26, 2014

Politics of no compromise takes over

The ongoing Sewol crisis is proving that the politics of compromise is non-existent, further contributing to public cynicism about politics. Clockwise from top left are President Park Geun-hye speaking during an economic advisory meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday; Strategy and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan making an appeal to the National Assembly to act on pending bills related to people's living standards and Rep. Park Young-sun, interim chief and floor leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who took to the street with colleagues to press for demands on behalf of relatives of those who died on the Sewol ferry to be included in a bill to establish a committee with full powers to investigate and indict people connected to the sinking of the vessel. (Yonhap)

Clockwise from top left are President Park Geun-hye speaking during an economic advisory meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday; Strategy and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan making an appeal to the National Assembly to act on pending bills related to people’s living standards and Rep. Park Young-sun, interim chief and floor leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who took to the street with colleagues to press for demands on behalf of relatives of those who died on the Sewol ferry to be included in a bill to establish a committee with full powers to investigate and indict people connected to the sinking of the vessel. (Yonhap)

By Kang Seung-woo

Two contrasting scenes Tuesday showed how divided the nation is, raising the question of whether the current impasse in the parliament over the bill on the Sewol ferry tragedy will ever be broken.

The government pleaded with the National Assembly to take action on a mound of pending pivotal bills related to improving living standards for people and the national economy. This was a repeat of a plea made by President Park Geun-hye the previous day.

The opposition party boycotted all parliamentary affairs, calling for a concession to be made by the ruling party regarding the content of a bill intended to establish a committee to investigate the April 16 ferry sinking that claimed more than 300 lives, most of them students from a high school.

“Our economy is losing momentum due to the ongoing political stalemate,” Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said in a joint statement with other key policymakers at the government building in Seoul.

“If those bills related to the livelihoods of the people do not pass during this session, and if we fail to revive the embers of economic recovery, the economy could go off track and face difficulties in turning itself around.”

Since taking office in July, Choi has come up with a broad range of stimulus measures to revitalize the economy, but key economic bills have been pending at the National Assembly due to political wrangling over the ferry bill.

The measures include fiscal support worth more than 40 trillion won, and tax code revision and deregulation, aimed at boosting corporate investment and household incomes.

“We urge lawmakers to resolve the Sewol ferry tragedy through negotiations and to show leadership by separating bills that have nothing to do with the accident,” Choi said.

The statement came a day after President Park called on the National Assembly on Monday to pass a set of bills intended to revive the economy in the current session, which is scheduled to end Sunday.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) began a sit-in protest on the same day.

It staged a rally in front of the National Assembly, saying there would be no compromise unless President Park and the Saenuri Party met the demands of the relatives of the ferry victims.

“There should not be a country that neglects the lives of its citizens,” Rep. Park Young-sun, interim chief and floor leader of the NPAD, said in a statement during the protest.

“We will fight on behalf of the victims’ families and the people until the Saenuri Party and President Park respond to our demand to establish the whole truth behind the Sewol disaster.”

The rival parties agreed to deals to pass the special bill twice earlier this month, both of which were rejected by the families, who said that the agreements did not address their concerns.

The floor leader also apologized to the families and the public for failing to successfully negotiate on the contents of the bill according to their wishes, saying the will of the families should come first.

The demonstration came after the opposition had its proposal on Sunday to form a three-way dialogue channel rejected by the Saenuri Party. The consultative body would also include relatives of the victims.

“We denounced the Saenuri Party’s refusal to accept the proposal for a three-way consultative body and resolved to fight resolutely,” Rep. Park Beom-kye, the NPAD’s floor spokesman, said in a press briefing after a party meeting earlier in the day.

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