It’s cooperation timePresident Moon Jae-in and floor leaders of rival parties had a luncheon meeting last week and agreed to keep up dialogue and cooperation at the 21st National Assembly. It is a relief that political leaders have put down their differences to discuss ways to fight Covid-19. The mood is said to have been amicable, with the president praising Joo Ho-young, the new floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), for apologizing for comments from some members still discrediting the Gwangju May 18 Democratization Movement.
Moon proposed regular “unconditional and informal” meetings with opposition parties to seek bipartisanship. He reminded everyone that the previous National Assembly failed to show any cooperation despite a promise of bipartisanship and unity at the beginning. “This time should be different,” Moon said.
The economy has been wrecked by the merciless pandemic. Exports have been slumping by more than 20 percent, and jobs, growth and inflation have all weakened to unprecedented levels. The Bank of Korea has lowered this year’s growth estimate to minus 0.2 percent from its earlier 2.1 percent — the central bank’s first estimate for negative growth in 11 years.
The government and the legislature are responsible to lead the battle against a national crisis such as this one. The National Assembly must first review and pass bills on relief programs, a third supplementary budget and the launch of a new anticorruption investigation agency. The ruling Democratic Party now commands a super majority of 177 seats in the 300-member legislature thanks to its success in the April 15 parliamentary elections. But it cannot run without the help of the opposition.
In a DP workshop last week of lawmakers-elect, the results of a survey was shared. The findings showed 55 percent thought a 180-seat ruling party (before three expulsions) was “excessive” while the other 32 percent believed the level was “appropriate.” Unity is a must, not a choice. Otherwise, the fight with the virus pandemic cannot be won.
Bipartisanship cannot be achieved through words alone. The ruling party must engage smaller parties in the legislature. The DP, however, is considering dominating all 18 chairmanships of standing committees in the new legislature. The plan has irked the opposition and stalled negotiations on setting up committees. The DP must recall its past criticism of the conservative ruling party for dominating standing committee chair seats.
Despite the president’s proposal, the meeting did not end with specific details on how to regularize such meetings. A similar promise was made in 2018 but was not kept. Moon also did not make any mention of the controversy over a ruling party lawmaker and her management of an advocacy group for victims of Japanese wartime military sexual slavery. If he had been serious about bringing about unity, he should have discussed sticky issues first and foremost.