Saenuri does damage control after Park’s remarks

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Saenuri does damage control after Park’s remarks

Jolted by President Park Geun-hye’s abrupt and unusually strong criticism of the legislature, ruling party lawmakers expressed concern yesterday over her condemnation, fearing it could have undesirable effects in their already deadlocked negotiations with the main opposition party over the sensitive Sewol bill.

The president on Tuesday lashed out at the National Assembly for failing to reach a consensus on the special Sewol law that would sanction an investigation into the April 16 ferry disaster, as well as the passage of other bills.

She also stated that lawmakers who fail to perform their legislative duties should hand their salaries back to taxpayers, a jab obviously targeted at the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

The main opposition party has refused to pass any other pending bills until the Saenuri Party gives in to its demands on the Sewol bill.

But concerns spread inside the ruling party yesterday that negotiation with the opposition would become even more difficult after the president’s reprimand. The NPAD is already trying to contain a severe power struggle within its own ranks.

A senior Saenuri Party member yesterday criticized the president and the party’s senior leadership for making such as inappropriate political move.

“When the opposition party is in a predicament, the ruling party should offer help and when the ruling party is in trouble, the Blue House must help,” Representative Lee Jae-oh said yesterday at the Saenuri leadership meeting.

“When the opposition party is in trouble, the ruling party must offer an exit. If you block all the exits, the government and the ruling party will eventually be held responsible.”

Lee is a five-term lawmaker and a major rival to Park loyalists inside the ruling party.

He also railed on the president for issuing a definitive line to the ruling party in its negotiations with the opposition over the special Sewol bill.

The center of the dispute between the two sides concerns whether to empower a fact-finding committee to be established under the special law with the authority to investigate and indict those deemed accountable for the ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 passengers, mostly high school students.

By law, only the prosecution has the authority to indict suspects.

The president on Tuesday made it clear that no investigative or prosecutorial authority would be granted to such a committee, thereby rejecting the main demand advocated by the relatives of the victims. The scope of the committee’s authority has been the primary sticking point in talks between the ruling and opposition parties so far.

“When the Blue House and the ruling party say this is the final offer, then the opposition can do nothing,” Lee said. “The ruling party should have said that it would wait until operations within the opposition party are normalized. That is the appropriate attitude of the ruling party.”

Another senior Saenuri official, Kim Tae-ho, added that the president shouldn’t have told lawmakers to return their salaries. Kim acknowledged that Park was merely echoing public sentiment, though it was evident that he thought she had crossed the line.

Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung also appeared to share those concerns. During his meeting with the president on Tuesday at the Blue House, he expressed his worry about the sensitive timing of Park’s remarks, made earlier in the day. “If we push too hard this time, we may not be able to pass bills in the future that are really necessary,” he told her.

Another Saenuri lawmaker also complained about her attitude. “We understand her frustration, but it doesn’t look good when the president appears to issue a guideline for a negotiation in the legislature,” the two-term lawmaker said. “When she does it, what more can our floor leader say in a negotiation?”

Another senior Saenuri member, who is also a Park loyalist, admitted that the presidential aides weren’t prepared for her commentary. “I asked around with Blue House officials yesterday, and they said they didn’t know the president would go that far,” he said. “The president is known for her straightforward style, but it is better for her to consult the party’s leaders on issues related to the National Assembly.”

However, this isn’t the first time that the ruling has had to do damage control following provocative commentary by the president.

After a meeting between the president and the heads of the ruling and opposition parties fell apart last September, Park criticized the Democratic Party, the NPAD’s predecessor, saying “the opposition party will face the people’s condemnation if it continues its legislative boycott.”

The main opposition party angrily challenged the president, continuing the political deadlock in the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy yesterday held a press conference condemning the president. In their statement, the lawmakers declared that the president had “declared a martial law” by rejecting the demands of the families of the Sewol ferry’s victims.

BY SER MYO-JA, KIM JUNG-HA[myoja@joongang.co.kr ]




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