[FORUM]A smile’s diminishing returnsThe Grand National Party has been relying on Park Geun-hye’s smile for nearly one year. She became the party’s public face last March, just before the legislative elections, with unanimous support within the party; for a public fed up with male-oriented squabbling in the political arena, the softness and femininity that came through in her smile were refreshing. Amid the backlash against the presidential impeachment, the Grand National Party managed to salvage 121 seats in the National Assembly, and after the elections she became the party’s chairwoman without facing much opposition.
At the time, there seemed to be no obstacles in her way. But her smile has disappeared lately. This is probably due to a series of unfortunate developments, originating both within and outside of the party.
Grand National lawmakers had not opposed the idea of renaming their party when it was being criticized for accepting large donations from business groups, but now they are opposing Ms. Park’s proposal to give the party a new name. They said they could not support her initiative for fear that the party would become “the Park Geun-hye party.” They also drew a strict line concerning the issues that have risen over her late father, President Park Chung Hee, saying that they were “Ms. Park’s personal matters, not matters for this party.”
The bad news for Ms. Park doesn’t end there. She will have to face a series of revelations about her father’s shortcomings. Documents containing undisclosed details of the negotiations over normalizing relations with Japan, and about the assassination of her mother, Yook Young-soo, were recently declassified. A large-scale investigation was launched over the Park Chung Hee administration’s infringements on human rights in the name of anti-communism. Debate has risen over replacing the wooden name board at Gwanghwamun that bears her late father’s calligraphy, and over the release of a comic film depicting her father’s assassination. Through such events, her father’s faults are being revealed.
Ms. Park lost both of her parents to assassination and lived in darkness and silence for 18 years, and it seems obvious that she could not face these recent developments with a smile. Chun Yu-ok, spokeswoman of the Grand National Party, has said that lawmakers begged Ms. Park to save the party from the aftermath of the presidential impeachment, but are now trying to dodge the criticism over past history. Ms. Chun’s words seem to reflect Ms. Park’s feelings.
But to empathize with Ms. Park’s situation is to show sympathy for her as a human being. If she thinks that people will show her comparable affection as a politician, it is a major misunderstanding. She became head of the Grand Nationals because the party needed her at the time. The fact that she has recently been attacked from within the party means her value to them has shrunk. It is Ms. Park’s duty as a politician to make herself needed by the party and her supporters. If she isn’t, then she has to withdraw from the political arena.
Some Grand Nationals have said she must step down at an appropriate time and support a presidential candidate who will be best for the party. They may find it appealing to make such a request, but they are simply asking for her sacrifice. Still, she shouldn’t suggest that they are asking too much. It would also be inappropriate to get angry about the governing Uri Party’s escalating attacks on Ms. Park. That is the nature of politics. The Grand National Party is no different when it comes to criticizing the Uri Party’s pool of possible presidential candidates.
The time when Ms. Park’s party needed her because of her smile has ended. The Grand Nationals and Ms. Park face the current crisis because they failed to keep their promises of reform. Had she offered a political philosophy, policies and a national vision that were at least acceptable alternatives, or had she even shown an attempt to do so, she probably would not be facing such harsh attacks from inside and outside the party.
Simply trying to sever ties with her father would not stop the criticism aimed at her. If she were not Park Chung Hee’s daughter, Ms. Park’s prominence today would be inexplicable. Her father’s merits and demerits are Ms. Park’s past and her karma. But she can decide her present and future. She should be proactive. She recently resigned as head of the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation because the National Intelligence Service was trying to investigate it, but that is not enough. How about visiting the victims of her father’s regime, consoling them and making her best effort to help them? She should do that until her efforts touch the public’s heart again.
* The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.
by Kim Du-woo