[Viewpoint] A call on Park to compromise
Many of South Korea’s famous political leaders had powerful stalwarts. Next to the country’s first president Syngman Rhee was Lee Gi-bung. Park Chung Hee’s authoritative power was shared with military proteges Kim Jong-pil, Lee Hu-rak and Cha Chi-chul. Chun Doo Hwan had Roh Tae-woo and Chang Se-dong, while Roh Tae-woo had kinsman Park Chul-un and erstwhile foe Kim Young-sam. Kim Young-sam was backed by political allies Lee Hoi-chang and Kim Jong-pil. Dissidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were coupled with loyalists like Kwon Roh-gap and Lee Hae-chan, respectively. But few wielded as much as power as Rep. Park Geun-hye.
In Korean politics today, there is effectively a third active party that is neither ruling nor opposition. The hybrid is led by Park Geun-hye, former head of the Grand National Party, and manned by about 50 to 60 currently cohabiting GNP members. By following Park’s lead, they can cause a stalemate in the power of the ruling party and President Lee Myung-bak.
How did Park come to have such power? Half of the credit goes to her own merits and the other half to PR and support from her loyal fans among conservatives. She scores high with the populace. Her gentle and stylish features appeal to public tastes. Her dramatic and tragic life story adds poignancy and mystery to her aura.
She entered politics humbly and gained trust by keeping faithful to principles and promises. At the helm, she reformed the conservative party and kept her promise with intra-party rival Lee Myung-bak and voters. President Lee had to take the fallout for breaking a promise with Park throughout last year.
This much goes to her credit. She is also beholden to the society’s conservative and moderate voter base for the popularity and power she enjoys.
Park stepped into the limelight in 1974 to stand on the side of her father, Park Chung Hee, who lost his wife to a bullet fired by a North Korean agent. His father gave birth to the new conservatives by rebuilding the economy, and Park was his daughter and first lady to a conservative government. Park had been bred and reared by conservatives.
She served as a mast to a conservative ship unaccustomed to riding against the sweeping progressive wave after President Roh Moo-hyun came to power. She skillfully maneuvered the helm at the GNP and saved it from sinking under the roaring liberal and progressive tides.
She revived the party through an impeachment attempt against Roh and stood in the cold in protest to the government’s reform on the private school foundation law. Some likened her to the heroine Joan of Arc, calling her a savior of conservative forces. She was crowned as a kingmaker following a chain of successes in gubernatorial and by-elections.
But her solid 35-year marriage with conservative forces has hit a snag due to differences over Sejong City, a project to relocate parts of the government to South Chungcheong. Conservative intellectuals formed a 2,000-man council against the plan to divide the capital. Former prime ministers and house speakers stood at the forefront.
Behind them are thousands opposing the plan. They have nothing to gain by protesting the plan of moving the prime minister’s office and 13 other government ministries and agencies. They oppose the move because their experience tells them that dividing a capital’s power can be catastrophic.
The time has come for Park to make a choice. Of course, keeping promises and principles are important, but no truths are irrevocable in the face of realistic problems. Obstinacy is not the best policy at the current moment.
Mount Everest is called the earth’s highest mountain because it is atop the Himalayas. The summit wouldn’t stand so high if it was separated from its base. Park sits on a base of conservatives. If the bedrock crumbles, so can she. She must not let her principles blind and deafen her.
Her steadfastness may prompt President Lee to come up with a better alternative to the Sejong plan. Where would her commitment to her promise be then?
*The writer is an editorial writer on political affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Jin