[FORUM]Two sides to the ghost of ParkWhat would the late President Park Chung Hee think? Would he be delighted by his daughter’s magnificent surge? Or would he be saddened by the fall of Kim Jong-pil, his partner in the military coup in 1961, the actual successor of his Republican Party as well as his nephew-in-law?
The starkly contrasting fates of those who could have succeeded President Park prompt a look back on the achievements and failures of President Park and the Third Republic.
It was primarily Park Geun-hye’s tearjerker campaigning that restored hope to the crisis-ridden Grand National Party, which was devastated by the public backlash to the presidential impeachment. Of course, the disparaging remarks about the elderly from the Chairman of Our Open party, Chung Dong-young, played a considerable supporting role, but it was Chairwoman Park’s talent as a politician that turned Mr. Chung’s mistake to her advantage. Through this election she was reborn as the leader of the No.1 opposition party in the truest sense.
Park never directly mentioned her father during campaigning. She even canceled her visit to her father’s old home planned by her party’s election committee. Instead she used a clever strategy that indirectly reminded people of President Park, and only the happy memories at that. At the party convention, she cited the words of Admiral Lee Sun-shin, the figure her father admired the most. When she was visiting a certain region, she would subtly say that her father had a special place in his heart for that region. Such strategy of subtlety and restraint worked to stimulate nostalgia about the bygone days, further aided by a hairstyle reminiscent of her mother’s.
Nostalgia for President Park, in essence, made up 80 percent of the Park Geun-hye effect. Two and a half decades after his death, Park was splendidly resurrected through his daughter’s political ascension.
Kim Jong-pil’s lot, however, is in stark contrast to Park’s. When Mr. Kim’s party, the United Liberal Democrats, failed to gain the status of a parliamentary negotiation group in the 16th general election, he lamented that things were in a mess. But this election was a fiasco for Mr. Kim, earning only four seats, so now things really are in a mess. His party did not even win 3 percent of the votes that was necessarry to get a proportional representation seat, thwarting his grand hope of becoming the first 10-term lawmaker. As he finally announced his retirement from politics, the last leg of his long political career, his ambitious hope of going out with a bang is now nothing but a dream.
To date Mr. Kim has been justifying the coup in 1961 and extolling the achievements of the Third Republic. Whenever he had a chance, he stressed the construction of the Seoul-Busan highway and boasted about Korea’s successful industrialization during the lean days. And sometimes he deplored the loss of spirit from that era. He had faithfully fulfilled his role as the right-arm man and successor to President Park. That is why Mr. Kim’s defeat suggests the Park Chung Hee era has ended completely.
So I would like to ask President Park, who has been resurrected through his daughter’s success but is dying again through his heir’s fall, “Sir, What is the irony in all this?”
Park Chung Hee is a legend in Korea’s modern history. He rescued people from poverty and laid the foundation for industrialization. But he was also a power-hungry despot, who trampled on human rights and democracy. History summarizes these two faces of Park as “developmental dictatorship.”
The fall of Kim Jong-pil could be interpreted as the end of the dark legacy from the Park era. Memories of the military coup, human rights violations by the central intelligence agency, and tyranny have been erased with the April 15 legislative elections.
The rise of Park Geun-hye has opposite meanings, though. It’s an opportunity to revive the brighter side of President Park’s legacy, credited with the miracle of the Han River. Voters who cast ballot for her certainly do not want the return of despotism.
However, Our Open Party is criticizing Chairwoman Park for deepening the regional divide by invoking the spirit of her father’s dictatorship. It is difficult to deny. So, it’s now up to Park Geun-hye to overcome that challenge.
* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.
by Heo Nam-chin