Enough of Machiavellian tacticsPresident Lee Myung-bak has been pleading for the opposition to cooperate in ratifying the long-stalled Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. Lee visited the National Assembly this week and met leaders of the Democratic Party, telling them he would renegotiate with Washington a contentious clause in the FTA about investor-state dispute settlements (ISD) with which the DP has taken umbrage. “If the FTA passes the legislature, I give my word I will seek renegotiations over the ISD clause,” Lee said.
The U.S. Congress has already passed the FTA, but the DP claims the ISD clause can be abused by U.S. investors to undermine Korea’s public policies. Lee said he will stake his name on discussing the matter with Washington to improve Korea’s position within three months of ratification.
The ball is now in the opposition’s court. Democratic Party chief Sohn Hak-kyu has extended his demands and asked that the clause be removed altogether, but he agreed to discuss the president’s proposal at a party assembly.
Lee’s proposal is no different from the terms agreed on by the floor leaders of the Grand National Party and the DP, as well as the government, last month. In order to put the FTA to a vote, the GNP accepted most of the demands by the main opposition party and persuaded the government to agree.
In other words, the DP has already achieved much of what it allegedly set out to do. But the agreement was squashed at the party congress without any discussion due to hardline opposition from senior leaders. Their action was motivated by political calculations, namely that they need to gather coalition support from splinter opposition parties such as the radical Democratic Labor Party, which vehemently opposes the FTA, to win next year’s legislative and presidential elections.
However, the unreasonable stance of senior DP figures has caused backlash among many party members, and more than half of the party signed a compromise package in favor of putting the FTA to a vote. Some moderate members even teamed up with their ruling party counterparts to sign a petition for the assembly to ratify the deal.
The DP must decide whether it supports the democratic process of expressing its view through a vote, or whether it prefers a violent melee to block the deal. The GNP and the government should also stick to their word and persuade Washington to renegotiate on the ISD provision.