Korean parties confront growing discontent over Sewol row

Korean parties confront growing discontent over Sewol row
A vessel involved in salvage operations passes near the upturned South Korean Sewol ferry in the sea off Jindo, in this file picture taken April 17, 2014.

The two main political parties' prolonged standoff over the special Sewol bill is inciting widespread criticism of the parliament, lawmakers say.

The aim of the Sewol bill is to uncover issues surrounding the April 16 ferry accident that left more than 300 people dead or missing. Although both the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy agree on the need for the bill, the two have locked horns over issues including whether to give the power to investigate and indict to the committee in charge of the related issues.

In addition to the deadlock, which has resulted in no bills being processed for four months, the vetoing of the request to arrest the Saenuri Party's Rep. Song Kwang-ho is fueling criticism of the parliament's inefficiency.

Song is alleged to have received bribes from a railroad components maker in return for his help in winning contracts. The parts supplied by the company have since been found to have serious structural faults.

According to the ruling party's Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, residents of his constituency in North Gyeongsang Province have criticised the parliament, with some saying the country would be better off without the National Assembly.

"There were many who berated (the parliament), saying that (lawmakers) receive their pay without processing any bills," the Saenuri Party's Rep. Choung Byoung-gug told the local media.

Over the five-day Chuseok holiday, Choung toured his Yeoju-Gapyeong-Yangpyeong constituency in Gyeonggi Province.

Similar public sentiment was conveyed by NPAD lawmakers, who said that their constituents called on them to go back to the parliament.

Since late August, the NPAD has been boycotting parliamentary processes in an attempt to pressure the Saenuri Party to renegotiate the Sewol bill.

The two parties, however, are continuing to point fingers.

"Public opinion was burning over the rejection of the arrest request for Rep. Song Kwang-ho on Sept. 3," NPAD spokesperson Rep. Han Jeoung-ae said Wednesday.

"The Saenuri Party's systematic rejection of the arrest request was a bad move that added fuel to the (public's) distrust of the National Assembly."

The ruling party, for its part, claimed that the people were angry at the main opposition and accused the NPAD of being blind to public opinion. The Saenuri Party also continued its call for economic bills to be processed separately from the special Sewol bill.

"The NPAD is said to have no intention of returning to parliament unless the Sewol bill is approved. It is doubtful whether the NPAD, which has left the parliament, has even heard the public opinion over Chuseok," Saenuri Party floor spokesperson Rep. Kim Hyun-sook said.

cheesuk@heraldcorp.com

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