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Devil is in the details: the thorny special Sewol bill explained

Aug 26,2014
It has been months since the special Sewol law arose as a key issue and developed into the source of political paralysis. But many people are still confused about the details of the controversial bill, while groundless rumors are prevalent online. Here is a primer on the bill.



Q. When was the bill proposed and by whom?

A. Currently, a total of 13 bills related to the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16 are pending in the National Assembly. Generally speaking, when we refer to the special Sewol law, the bill is “the special law related to seeking the truth behind the Sewol ferry accident and support for the victims and their relatives” proposed by New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) representative Jeon Hae-cheol on July 4.



What are the details of Jeon’s bill?

It is composed of two main parts: discovering the truth behind the accident and supporting the victims and their families.

The first part sets up a special investigative committee to determine the targets and ways of investigation into the causes of the tragedy. Under the bill, the committee will be able to demand the submission of documents or objects, hold hearings and require police investigations or audits by the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea. The committee can also call for a special prosecutor by a majority vote.

Relatives of the victims wanted the committee to have the authority to investigate and indict on its own. The NPAD bill calls for the committee to be given the right of investigation but indictments are still the provenance of prosecutors, or a special prosecutor.



Why did the ruling Saenuri Party oppose the idea?

They believed that giving the authority of investigation to a committee comprised of civilians is unconstitutional. The ruling party insisted the two rights be given to a special prosecutor, and the NPAD has accepted that. Therefore, prosecutors, or a special prosecutor, will become the key entity seeking the truth behind the accident.



The ruling and main opposition parties are conflicted over how to select members of the committee recommending special prosecutor candidates.

Under Korea’s special prosecutors law, seven people, including the vice minister of the Ministry of Justice, the vice minister of the Ministry of Court Administration, the president of the Korean Bar Association and two people selected each by the Saenuri Party and the NPAD will form the committee to determine two candidates for the position of special prosecutor. President Park Geun-hye will make the final selection of the special prosecutor.

Relatives of the Sewol tragedy’s victims are saying the special prosecutor is likely to be pro-government because two vice ministers and two people suggested by the ruling party will be on the committee.

In a compromise made last week, the Saenuri Party conceded that they will allow the victims’ families and NPAD to vet their proposed candidates first. But the relatives of high school students killed in the sinking insisted that the NPAD recommend four candidates and the Saenuri Party recommend none.



Why isn’t the ruling party accepting the proposal by the victims’ families?

Saenuri Party lawmakers say it is hard to revise the special prosecutor law. In fact, they are worrying that a special prosecution inclined toward the opposition side would try to find fault in the government and ruling party in the accident and the rescue effort.



Did both parties agree on compensation for the victims?

No. They planned on discussing the issue starting in September, but that is now likely to be postponed because of the delay in the special Sewol law.

BY KIM JUNG-HA [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]







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