[Viewpoint] If I were Park Geun-hye ...

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[Viewpoint] If I were Park Geun-hye ...

If I were Park Geun-hye, front-runner in the presidential race from the ruling Saenuri Party, I would have apologized sincerely for the alleged selling of a nomination for a proportional representative position while she was head of the party’s campaign in April. Park should have bowed her head before the public for letting them down despite her assurances that the election would be clean and transparent.

Saenuri Party Secretary General Suh Byung-soo said the party was informed of the situation a day before it hit the newspapers. There was enough time. Park handled the situation poorly.

Instead of apologizing, she said the case needed to be verified by the prosecution. Of course, a case of illegality should be dealt with by law enforcement authorities. But that’s a textbook response. She talked of the issue as if it were someone else’s matter. We know by experience what “Let’s wait for the prosecution’s report” means. Politicians use the phrase usually to sidestep an issue and pressure the prosecutors or to seek a political deal to weasel out of a predicament.

What seemed like an apology from Park came three days after the reports, and it was equally disappointing. “I am saddened that such allegations are raised. .?.?. I feel ashamed toward the people,” she said. She hardly sounded sincere. During a meeting among presidential candidates of the Saenuri Party later that evening, Park allegedly said she had done nothing to be accountable for. Her aides denied that she made the comment, but few believed them.

If I were Park, I would have come up with a party-level action plan before the prosecutors revealed their findings. She should have called for a thorough internal probe. But such an action only took place four days later after criticism from her party rivals, with some threatening not to participate in the presidential primary with her. If she had proposed an internal investigation first, she wouldn’t have given an excuse to her rivals to attack.

If I were Park, I wouldn’t have agreed to kick the two members associated with the bribery scandal - former nomination committee member Hyun Ki-hwan and Representative Hyun Young-hee - out of the party without full investigation results. The order is all wrong. The members looked righteous complaining about injustice when the party demanded they leave without confirmation of the allegations.

The party decided to expel the two, and the secretary general joined in on the farce by saying the two would be reinstated if they were found innocent.

On what grounds does the party have to investigate the two when they are no longer members? Even if she is kicked out of the party, Hyun can still maintain her legislative seat secured through the proportional representation nomination. She should not be acquitted of her deed simply through losing her ruling party membership.

If I were Park, I would have come up with innovative ideas to root out bribery associated with nominations. Bribery has long been customary in the nominating process. It has become endemic in political circles because the fundamental problem has never been addressed. Scandals recur because of the nomination system. As party strengths are usually evident in constituencies, whoever gets the nomination is assured of an easy win. It is why bidders line up behind the people with the nomination authority with envelopes of cash.

No matter how strenuously Park insists she had nothing to do with the independent nomination body, she can’t avoid culpability as head of the campaign team. Moreover, the two Hyuns may not be alone. The scandal surfaced only because an aide of lawmaker Hyun spilled the beans. Maybe there are more scandals waiting to surface.

If Park wants to win back public confidence, she should yield the party’s autocratic nomination authority to the people. Her team of political advisers has already studied a way of adopting an open primary to give the public a chance to pick their own candidates to run in their constituencies. For proportional representatives, the party can publish an open list and have the public nominate the candidates.

But the board’s proposals have so far not been accepted. If Park had listened to its advice, she would not be in the hot seat she finds herself today. Yet it is not entirely late to make amends.

If I were Park Geun-hye, I would implement the reforms on the nomination process before the presidential race. Few would believe her sincerity if she acts after the election. The reforms in the nomination process would not only root out corruption but also move the representative election system to a higher level.

Her gambit would pay off as it is definitely not something the Democratic United Party, with its leadership vacuum, would think of. Park already has too much vested power. Her winning strategy would be to shed at least a little of it.

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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