Sewol agreement starts to unravel

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Sewol agreement starts to unravel

Faced with mounting calls for new negotiations with the ruling Saenuri Party over the specifics of the Sewol special law, an opposition acting-chief said yesterday she would seek additional talks with the ruling party to address growing complaints both in and outside of the party.

“On a procedure to launch a special prosecutors’ investigation team supported by families of the Sewol victims, we will contemplate the measure further and make sincere efforts [to meet their demand],” said floor leader Park Young-sun of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy yesterday during a press briefing at the National Assembly.

Park’s announcement of additional talks came three days after the NPAD and the Saenuri reached an agreement on the special Sewol law Thursday.

Since the two reached middle ground following weeks of wrangling over the specifics of the law, the NPAD has been engulfed in internal disputes over the agreement with its acting chairwoman Park Young-sun under mounting criticism that she gave in too much to the Saenuri Party.

There is even a possibility that the NPAD may call off the agreement following a party meeting today at the National Assembly.

The center of contention on the special law is whether to empower a fact-finding committee to be established with the authority to recommend a special prosecutors’ investigation team to get to the bottom of the April 16 Sewol sinking, the country’s worst maritime disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly high school students.

The NPAD yielded to the Saenuri by giving up such authority for the special committee but instead had its demand met on who will be on the committee. The two agreed to put the special law to a vote at a general parliamentary meeting Wednesday.

The compromise reached by Park and Saenuri floor leader Lee Wan-koo, however, drew immediate and strong protest from NPAD lawmakers as well as from relatives of the Sewol victims, who claimed the acting-party leader gave in too much to the ruling party. They wanted the committee to have at least the power to recommend a special investigation team, or even to investigate and indict suspects.

Under the agreement, a special nominating committee for the special investigation team will recommend two potential teams. But under the law, only the president has the authority to name such a team, and President Park Geun-hye will choose one of the nominated teams.

The fact the president has such authority has sparked opposition from the families who believe the team will not be independent of pressure from the Blue House. The relatives want the committee to have authority to investigate and indict suspects directly, which the Saenuri outright rejects.

High-profile opposition lawmakers including former presidential candidates Moon Jae-in and Chung Dong-young publicly called for a new round of negotiations to produce an outcome that the families could agree with.

“The Sewol special law is our first step to prevent further senseless deaths of the young and adults,” said Moon. “What is most important here is to produce an outcome that relatives can agree with.”

In response to calls for a renewed negotiation, the 54-year-old Park Young-sun said during a press briefing yesterday that she regarded the members of the fact-finding committee as the most important factor in negotiations.

The 17-member-committee will be comprised of 10 members recommended by the two parties, two by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, two by the Korean Bar Association and three by an association representing the families, as the NPAD demanded. The Saenuri wanted only two members chosen by the families’ group.

The NPAD is still reeling from stunning defeats in by-elections last month, which forced two former chairmen Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gill to resign.


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