A curious inquisitionThe Grand National Party conducted a verification hearing yesterday on Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, their two leading presidential candidates. This was the first such event in Korea’s political history; it is also rare to find such a curious inquisition in other countries. The hearing was meaningful, though incomplete.
Today, anybody who wants to become Korea’s president must bare themselves to the bone. A candidate must go through a series of political and policy debates and pass through a gauntlet of vigorous verification. Korea is no longer a society that gives a presidential candidate the nod simply because they’ve been president of a huge construction company, Seoul mayor, first lady or chairperson of a political party.
Lee Myung-bak was asked to say why his older brother and brother-in-law will not reveal how they funded their land purchases. Lee was pressured to say why he knows nothing about his own real estate properties. He eventually conceded that he will try to persuade his relatives to testify.
Park was asked why she was so indifferent about the late Reverend Choi Tae-min, one of her close aides, when he faced allegations of corruption. She was asked if she had paid taxes for her house, provided free of charge by a conglomerate chairman. She was asked how she obtained the money left in her father Park Chung Hee’s office after his assassination. Park admitted that it was wrong for a company affiliated with Yeungnam University to give contributions to the Yookyoung Foundation.
The Grand National Party’s in-house verification committee members appeared to put in their best effort. They referred to media reports and presentation materials with graphics. They tried, but they were not precise and their tone was amateurish.
The members should have questioned Lee more vigorously about his ethics and his conviction for ordering an aide to run away after he disclosed illegal election funds. They should have pressed him about his brother, who rejected a prosecution summons and left the country.
The members should have questioned Park’s “aristocratic” lineage. They should have made her explain in more detail why she received the money from her father’s safe. They should have asked why she blamed staff member whenever she failed to pay her taxes.
The hearing ended, but we are not satisfied. The candidates’ arguments echo in our ears. Did the candidates give answers that were truthful? Based on their facial expressions and discomfort, we have some doubts. The prosecution will investigate further, but probes do not answer everything. And yet, the answer must lie with the people’s common sense; we have to put our faith in that. Electing a leader is hard, especially when the candidates are economical with the truth.