Park holds across-the-aisle parley
They said such gatherings may even become regular events.
Analysts saw the meeting as an attempt by Park to combat her image of being unable to “communicate” with people, particularly the opposition, which has contributed to a fall in her approval ratings. In her 18 months in office, the only time the five political bigwigs came together at the Blue House was last week at a banquet for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was on a two-day visit to Seoul.
The meeting resulted in no tangible breakthroughs despite several proposals made by the two floor leaders and two chief policy makers from each party.
They are: Lee Wan-koo, floor leader of the Saenuri Party; Joo Ho-young, chief of the Saenuri’s policy committee; Park Young-sun, floor leader of the NPAD; and Woo Yoon-keun, chief of the NPAD policy committee. The four party executives were picked on May 9.
Park, floor leader of the NPAD, said in a joint press conference with the other three lawmakers following the morning meeting that she asked the president to consider dropping her nominees for minister of education, Kim Myung-soo, and minister of culture, Chung Sung-keun.
Kim is under pressure by the opposition and even some members of the ruling party to withdraw his nomination because of accusations of academic plagiarizing. Chung is under fire for a history of drunken driving.
The president was quoted by the floor leader as responding to the request by saying, “Well understood. I will refer to it.”
It remains to be seen what President Park will do with the two troubled nominations. The National Assembly is scheduled to decide on the adoption of reports on the confirmation hearings for the two nominees, the step preceding a vote on the nominations at a plenary session.
In regards to Lee Byung-ki, who was nominated to head the National Intelligence Service, the NPAD floor leader said the four told President Park that they decided to approve the hearings report for the candidate after taking into consideration the lengthy vacuum in the post, adding that the opposition still thinks him an inappropriate choice for the post.
“We also proposed that the president expedite reform within the spy agency including prohibition of political interference,” the floor leader said.
Confirmation hearings for eight cabinet nominees have been under way from the start of the week. They were part of a major reshuffle of Park’s cabinet in the wake of the Sewol ferry tragedy on April 16.
President Park in return asked the parliamentary leaders to revise the government organization act and pass the so-called Kim Young-ran bill and the so-called Yoo Byung-eun bill.
The Kim Young-ran bill will enable authorities to punish government officials for taking bribes worth 1 million won ($984) or more, regardless of whether they repaid the bribes with political favors, whereas the Yoo Byung-eun bill would allow the government to go after illegally obtained assets.
“We have reached a decision to pass those bills during the August parliamentary session after gathering different opinions at an open discussion,” said Representative Park.
She added that lawmakers have consented to passing a special act at a plenary session on July 16 that will award jail terms of up to 100 years to people responsible for accidents or crimes that result in two or more deaths to prevent calamities like the Sewol sinking. It is the so-called Sewol special act.
Lee Wan-koo, the Saenuri floor leader, said at the conference that he is upbeat about the prospect of regular “open-hearted” discussions between the Blue House and the National Assembly. The president agreed to the idea, he added.
“What people want from the president is communication,” he said. “No matter how often we meet the president, it is never too much.”
But Woo, the opposition chief policy maker, stressed the meeting with the president was not a mere courtesy call and that she should heed the messages delivered to her.
The attendees also talked about the sagging local economy with the president. “Thoughts of how we can revive the economy never leave my head,” President Park was quoted as saying by a Blue House correspondent who was allowed to represent the press for the first few minutes of the meeting.
“It was showing signs of recovery before but has been staggering ever since the Sewol accident,” she was quoted as saying. “Those who are hit hardest are the ordinary people and small-store operators.”
President Park also congratulated the NPAD floor leader on her election as the first-ever woman to assume the post. In response, the anchorwoman turned politician said it was possible because Korea saw its first female president in Park.
The meeting, which had initially been set to last 45 minutes, was extended by 40 minutes to end at 11:55 a.m. The two floor leaders - Lee and Park - have been meeting at 11 a.m. every Monday ever since they took their positions.
No details about the meeting were available from the presidential office. Min Kyung-wook, the presidential spokesman, said the Blue House agreed with the lawmakers not to release any statement. “Since the party leaders already gave details [during the conference], we won’t,” he told reporters.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]
Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church
The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.
Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.
Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.
It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.
The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.
The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.
The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.
But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.