S. Korean parties reach Sewol bill compromise

September 30, 2014
The rival parties stuck a deal over the long-disputed Sewol ferry bill Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The rival parties stuck a deal over the long-disputed Sewol ferry bill Tuesday. (Yonhap)

By Yi Whan-woo

SEOUL — The rival parties stuck a deal over the long-disputed Sewol ferry bill Tuesday, ending the controversy over establishing an independent counsel to investigate the cause of the April 16 maritime disaster.

The ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) also passed bipartisan bills during a National Assembly session held later day.

The National Assembly had been stuck in limbo as the parties locked horns for months over the passage of the bill. More than 300 passengers, mostly high school students, were killed or are listed as missing.

The two parties had argued over who should have the right to choose members of a panel that will select candidates for the special prosecutor and a committee that will oversee the investigation into the man-made tragedy.

Under the bipartisan agreement, the National Assembly will pick four of the seven panel members ― two chosen by the ruling party and two by the opposition.

The law stipulates the remaining three shall be selected by the deputy justice minister, the minister of National Court Administration and the president of the Korean Bar Association (KBA), a private organization for lawyers.

Saenuri Party floor leader Lee Wan-koo accepted his NPAD counterpart Park Young-sun’s proposal, agreeing that the ruling party would seek approval from the NPAD and the victims’ families before selecting its two panel members.

The ruling party, however, rejected a demand from the victims’ families to allow them to take part in picking the panel members.

The seven-member panel will pick two nominees for special prosecutor, from which President Park Geun-hye will make the final choice.

Party floor leaders also agreed to have the panel seek the NPAD’s approval in picking the two candidates for the independent counsel.

The independent counsel will supervise the special fact-finding committee that will be set up under the bill.

The rival parties agreed to set up the 17-member committee in their earlier consensus in August.

The Saenuri Party and NPAD will each select five members, respectively, one of whom will serve as the head. The Supreme Court’s chief justice and the KBA president will pick four members. The bereaved families of the ferry accident will then select the remaining three.

The bill allows a 90-day term for the special prosecutor, with an extension of another 90 days if necessary.

The plenary session convened on Tuesday evening amid concerns over the passage of the some 90 bills and proposals stuck in parliament since the ferry disaster.