Parties finally agree on Sewol bill

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Parties finally agree on Sewol bill

After months of wrangling over terms of a special law to investigate the April sinking of the Sewol, the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy finally reached an agreement yesterday, the last day of the July extra parliamentary session.

Lawmakers and relatives of the Sewol victims rejected an earlier proposal by the NPAD, leading to more than a week of further talks. But according to Yonhap News, the relatives are planning to reject yesterday’s compromise.

The rival parties were able to find middle ground on how to form a recommendation committee that will select two candidates for a special prosecutor to investigate the cause of the April 16 sinking, which left more than 300 people dead, mostly high school students, in waters off Korea’s southwestern coast in Jindo, South Jeolla. The prosecutor will also investigate the government’s poor handling of the crisis.

Under the agreement yesterday, the Saenuri Party will be allowed to choose two members of a committee to recommend the two candidates - but only after its selection is approved by the relatives of the Sewol victims and the NPAD.

The concession on the part of the Saenuri was beyond the agreement it reached with the opposition earlier this month that the NPAD reneged on four days later.

“The spirit of an agreement is that the Saenuri will choose two committee members after a selection approved by the bereaved families and the opposition,” said the ruling party floor leader, Lee Wan-koo, before a throng of reporters with his opposition counterpart, Park Young-sun, at the National Assembly.

Lee said the ruling party will not have to agree to the NPAD’s choice of two recommendation committee members.

As it stands now, three of the seven members of the recommendation committee will be named by the Ministry of Justice, the National Court Administration and the Korean Bar Association. Two will be named by the Saenuri and two from the NPAD.

During earlier negotiations, the opposition demanded it be allowed to name three committee members and the Saenuri only one.

The committee will nominate two candidates to become a special prosecutor and President Park Geun-hye will choose one.

The agreement reached by Park and Lee reflect yielding on each side. While the Saenuri finally agreed that its selections had to be confirmed by the victims’ families and the opposition, the NPAD dropped its earlier demand that it be allowed to choose three committee members instead of two.

On a 17-member fact-finding committee to be established under the special law, 10 members will be 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 victims’ relatives, the same terms of the previous agreement that was breached.

The two floor leaders added the National Assembly will work on compensation plans for the victims’ families in a plenary parliamentary session next month.

The agreement yesterday came amid deepening public disappointment in the two parties for their inability to deal with each other.

Pope Francis’s repeated displays of empathy toward relatives of the Sewol victims during his five-day visit to Korea contrasted with the political wrangling. The father of one teenage victim has been on a hunger strike for more than a month demanding the law be passed. Pope Francis talked with him in Seoul on Saturday.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]







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