(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 1)

Respect for bereaved families Parties should renegotiate Itaewon investigation bill As widely expected, President Yoon Suk Yeol vetoed a bill on Tuesday to launch a special committee for investigations into the deadly crowd crash that occurred in Itaewon in 2022. Initiated by the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), the bill was designed to carry out intensive investigations into the disaster that claimed 159 lives during the Halloween weekend celebrations. While rebuffing the act, wary of the possible repercussions from the bereaved families, the government unveiled a plan to install a memorial facility for the dead while offering financial compensation to the families. The president deserves criticism for the recent move, as it is the ninth exercise of his veto rights since he took office 20 months ago. It represents the largest number of vetoes being exercised by a head of state since 1987, following former Presidents Roh Tae-woo (7), Roh Moo-hyun (6), Park Geun-hye (2) and Lee Myung-bak (1 ). Frequent vetoing can be seen as a unilateral way of state administration with the current National Assembly dominated by the majority opposition party. The ruling People Power Party (PPP) and the DPK have remained poles apart over the matter. The PPP is skeptical of the opposition party, which they think, has been pursuing the special act, to exploit the agonies of the bereaved families for the sake of maximizing its political benefits. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, while presiding over a Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue, expressed concerns that the special act would lead to the misuse of administrative resources and deepen the national divide. "The process of nominating the 11 members of the special committee may trigger disputes regarding fairness," Han said. The committee was supposed to be comprised of seven members from the opposition bloc. The special act stipulates that the PPP and DPK each recommend four committee members while House Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, hailing from the DPK, is entitled to n ame the other three. As the committee was set to wield tremendous authority over forcible seizures, arrest, and overseas travel bans, the PPP has been worrying about the possible political maneuvering of the opposition party in the pretext of investigative activities. Despite such concerns, however, it is not proper for the ruling camp to describe the bill as simply a political offensive. Such an attempt would be the equivalent of inflicting yet more damage on the bereaved family members. It is natural to attentively listen to the voices of the families who suddenly lost their beloved children and siblings. The government should sincerely reflect on whether it has tried to assuage the pains incurred by the families. The government should take a lesson from the Sewol ferry disaster. The protracted duration of the crisis can be attributed to the government's initial shortcomings in addressing the emotional distress of the bereaved families. In the Itaewon case, for starters, Minister of Interior and Safety Le e Sang-min, the top official in charge, has not assumed any accountability even though he repeatedly made inappropriate remarks. The government took flak for having failed to promptly cope with the disaster from the beginning and to thoroughly investigate the case over the past 15 months. Albeit belatedly, it is encouraging that the PPP is seeking to renegotiate the act. Such a move deserves acclaim though it can be regarded as a political "gesture," aimed at alleviating possible fallout on the April 10 general elections amid growing repercussions against Yoon's veto of the related bill. Yet there is little possibility for the parties to reach an agreement as they remain far apart without showing signs of budging an inch from their stances. The PPP should employ more proactive approaches in dealing with the bill instead of disregarding it as a mere political offensive. The DPK, for its part, should also refrain from asking for excessive demands, thus disrupting the negotiations. It is hard to find a soluti on that could satisfy the rival parties and the bereaved families. Yet the parties should engage in renegotiations in a very sincere manner, and remain mindful of the heartbroken bereaved families. Source: Yonhap News Agency