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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on June 14)

All News 07:10 June 14, 2019

Rash responses
: Presidential secretaries' comments on petitions stoke political strife

Recently, Cheong Wa Dae denounced the political community for two days in a row.

Bok Ki-wang, presidential secretary for political affairs, responded positively on Wednesday to a petition calling for the introduction of a recall system to remove lawmakers.

"People can recall the president, governors, mayors and provincial councilors, but there is no system to recall lawmakers. It is unconvincing from the standpoint of common sense," he said.

"Is a country righteous if its people cannot check their lawmakers alone among elected officials?" he asked, adding that the present National Assembly must put a system in place allowing for the recall of lawmakers.

Bok was commenting on a petition posted on the online Cheong Wa Dae petition board April 24.

The petitioner demanded the introduction of a lawmaker recall system, saying, "The (main opposition) Liberty Korea Party's politics are characterized by blunt and thoughtless words, hatred, instigation, ideological disputes, anachronism and infringement on the Constitution."

Ostensibly, Cheong Wa Dae remained aloof and nonpartisan in its response to the petition. Actually, however, it was targeting the LKP, which continues to resist the ruling Democratic Party's calls to stop boycotting Assembly sessions.

A day earlier, Cheong Wa Dae had handled petitions seeking the dissolution of the ruling and opposition parties.

In response to those petitions, Kang Gi-jung, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, expressed the view that the petitions were "a reproach of the parties by the people, who are anxiously waiting for the general elections."

It is inappropriate to seek to dissolve the parties, he said, adding that the role of evaluating political parties belongs to the people, who are sovereign. This means the people should express their intentions by voting in the elections next year.

Kang said lawmakers had disappointed the people in the process of putting several bills on the fast track, adding that the extra spending bill was gathering dust because the parliament had been idle.

This remark echoes criticism that the ruling party had previously leveled against the LKP for protesting the fast-tracked bills outside the National Assembly building.

The opposition party strongly criticized Cheong Wa Dae's responses to the petitions, saying it was trying to interfere in the 2020 general elections by blaming the opposition party for the current stalemate.

Now is the time for both the ruling and opposition parties to try to make a deal to normalize the National Assembly.

While a tight war of nerves is going on between the rival parties, Cheong Wa Dae must refrain from making politically sensitive remarks.

Yet the senior secretary for political affairs and his subordinate, whose duty is to coordinate political negotiations behind the scenes, spoke as if they meant to admonish the main opposition party. They both acted rashly.

A petition calling for the LKP's disbandment has gained 1.83 million signatures. A separate petition seeking the DP's dissolution has attracted 330,000 signatures. If the government had no intention at all of seeking to disband the parties, it was indiscreet of Bok and Kang to comment on the petition.

Given its present composition, the National Assembly cannot function properly unless the rival parties cooperate with one another. Different thoughts must be respected, and conflicts arising therefrom must be solved together. The LKP is a partner for dialogue, not a political force to banish.

The ruling party, opposition parties and the government should all bear their share of responsibility for the current political stalemate. Cheong Wa Dae cannot escape criticism for the stalled parliamentary session.

The presidential office should reflect on itself regarding the political issues that caused the impasse, and should have included its self-reflection in its responses to the petitions. A good deal of confrontational domestic politics is attributable to the self-righteousness and narrow-mindedness of Cheong Wa Dae.

The petition board was originally set up to gather diverse opinions from all walks of life, but that purpose has all but faded from sight. It has been criticized for degenerating into a tool for the propagation of partisan ideologies and displays of political influence. Cheong Wa Dae needs to take this opportunity to consider whether to maintain it as is.

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