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Opposition camp faces discord over FTA bill

Korea Herald

Opposition camp faces discord over FTA bill

By Bae Hyun-jung

5 May 2011

Left wing criticizes DP leadership for deal with ruling party

Opposition parties face rough sailing to solidarity due to the conflict over the passage of the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement bill Wednesday night.

The National Assembly began a belated plenary session at 10:03 p.m., in which lawmakers of the Grand National Party approved the disputed bill, after opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

Earlier, the main opposition Democratic Party and other liberal parties called for a delay of the bill, claiming that it offered insufficient protection for local industries and farmers.

This was not the first time the ruling party pushed through a bill, ignoring opposition parties.

This time, the Korea-EU pact seems to have caused the opposition camp to fall apart, as the DP had compromised to pass the bill jointly with the GNP despite fierce backlash from other minority parties.

“We are not sure whether the lost trust may be restored between us,” said Lee Jung-hee, leader of the Democratic Labor Party late Wednesday.

The DLP criticized the DP for violating their alliance formed during the April 27 by-election campaign season as a win-win strategy for all within the liberal camp.

“The opposition solidarity may last only when the members remain devoted to their liberal beliefs,” said the party spokesperson.

The New Progressive Party, too, denounced the main opposition’s moves.

“Solidarity is more than just unifying the candidates in an election. It is more than a collaboration of policies,” said the NPP spokesperson.

“Opposition parties may not achieve unity unless the DP realizes this.”

It was the common stance of liberal opposition parties that the EU FTA is to threaten the survival of many farmers in Korea.

However, the DP compromised and reached an agreement with the GNP on Monday to pass the bill Wednesday after reinforcing a couple of protective measure articles.

This decision, largely led by floor leader Park Jie-won, met with resistance from other parties and also from within the party.

In an in-party meeting Wednesday, seven out of nine Supreme Council members voted against the bill, except Park and leader Sohn Hak-kyu.

“I am to blame for the troubles over the FTA bill,” Park told reporters Thursday morning.

“I have tried my best to guarantee the rights of local industries by strengthening the protective measures in adjective laws, but these have been lost along the way amid all the turmoil.”

He also urged the GNP to take responsibility in the capacity of the ruling party and to pass related measures, such as the supermarket law which bans the entrance of large supermarkets within a 1 kilometer radius of traditional markets.

Sohn, unlike Park who took a central role in the FTA negotiations with the ruling party and the government, remained relatively vague on the issue up to the last moment.

“I had to speak against the revised bill as agreed by the DP and the GNP on Monday, because it could not provide local farmers and merchants with sufficient legal protection against potential damage,” Sohn said, hinting that he demanded a delay, not a call-off.

He also expressed his regrets about the lack of communication with other liberal parties.

While conflicts continue, both the GNP and the DP are facing the selection of a new floor leader ― the former on Friday and the latter next Friday.

More detailed talks over the trade accord are then to be resumed by the newly-elected floor leaders.