[Viewpoint] It’s time for Park to say her piece

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[Viewpoint] It’s time for Park to say her piece

Last week, I urged former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye to rush to the scenes of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and witness the slaughtering of pigs and cattle. The frontrunner for the 2012 presidential race had been conspicuously aloof and silent on critical issues like North Korea’s belligerent attack on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island as well as the worst FMD outbreak the country has ever experienced.

GNP Representative Lee Jung-hyun, who serves as her spokesman, defended Park on his blog. He said that if Park aggressively joins the debate about FMD and North Korea, she will heat up the presidential race and hinder President Lee Myung-bak’s ability to govern effectively.

Her spokesman also argued that Park is not in a position to challenge President Lee because she does not hold any posts in the executive branch.

But Park is not just any public figure or member of the National Assembly. She acted as first lady during her father Park Chung Hee’s rule in the 1970s in the absence of her mother. She served as the chief of the majority conservative GNP and a major political rival to President Lee Myung-bak in the last presidential race.

Even now, she is the head of the minority group of 50 in the ruling party and is the unrivaled conservative favorite for the next presidential race. All these elements make her the most influential politician in the country, second only to the president.

A figure of such high profile should go to the people when they are in need.

She does not necessarily have to speak her mind on controversial public policies like the four-rivers restoration project or the controversial science and technology belt project. But her presence is necessary to soothe the victims at the scenes of catastrophes like the wreckage of the Cheonan warship and bombarded Yeonpyeong Island or the devastated farms after the culling of millions of livestock.

Outspokenness on current issues and empathizing with the struggles of the populace are clearly different. She did visit the victims and condemn North Korea after the attacks on the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. Yet her appearances did not come across as sincere connections with the public.

Park is a discreet and wise politician who does not want to create destructive divisions in the government ahead of the presidential race. But there are many ways to communicate with the public without publicity stunts.

It would be an exaggeration to consider Park’s visit to the Cheonan wreckage at Pyeongtaek Naval Base or her tour of Yeonpyeong Island as campaign efforts.

Likewise, she could discreetly visit the contaminated farms and offer words of condolence and courage to the devastated farmers without creating a political ruckus. She should congratulate quarantine officials for their hard work in their battle against the epidemic. She must be there and understand the pain and sorrows of the people.

Yet, these days Park only makes appearances in cyberspace. Even her Web sites are silent on the crises endured by Koreans such as the FMD outbreak and North Korean attacks. Instead of addressing such crises, her Web sites parade news of her lead in the presidential race or promote her beliefs on welfare issues.

If she truly wanted to keep a low profile, she should not have launched a think tank that many see as a preparatory group to gear up for the presidential campaign. Intentionally or not, what she actually did was heat up next year’s race.

On what grounds did she raise her voice against the government’s proposal to rewrite the plan of the administrative city of Sejong? Wasn’t it because it was a legislation she stamped as head of the then-opposition party and a campaign pledge as a presidential candidate? Are the FMD outbreak and North Korea’s military attacks less worthy of her attention as a presidential candidate?

Park’s silence on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s maverick behavior may harm inter-Korean relations in the long run. Park received a rare, warm reception from Kim when she visited Pyongyang in 2002. Kim may now view Park’s silence on North Korea’s bout of provocations as geniality toward the regime and believe that she will be pro-Pyongyang if she comes to power.

Park’s voice on the suffering of both North and South Koreans must be heard loud and clear. She must condemn the evils of the Kim regime. And she must insist that inter-Korean relations will not improve without fundamental changes to the North Korean government.

As one of Korea’s most powerful politicians, Park should not hide behind a wall of silence. She is only harming the public by doing so.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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