Park’s strengths, flaws are 2 sides of same coin

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Park’s strengths, flaws are 2 sides of same coin


After Park Geun-hye, fourth from left, was elected as the presidential candidate of the ruling Saenuri Party yesterday at the party convention held in Kintex, Ilsan, Gyeonggi, primary candidates cheered together. From left: Kim Moon-soo, Ahn Sang-soo, Kim Tae-ho, Park and Yim Tae-hee. [YONHAP]

The strengths of Park Geun-hye, the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential election candidate in December, lie in “powerful political constituency” and a “strong policy agenda,” according to an analysis by 11 analysts in politics, economics and social affairs.

The JoongAng Ilbo commissioned the analysis of Park’s strengths and weaknesses. More than half of the experts said her failings include her “privileged class” background and that she will have “limitations in expanding her political constituency into the young generation in their 20s and 30s.” They also said she did not possess a strong ability to communicate.

But the analysts also said these weaknesses were the opposite of her virtues.

“Park has loyal voters in both the Yeongnam [South and North Gyeongsang] and Chungcheong regions,” said professor Lim Hyuk-baek of the political science department of Korea University in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “She also has earned the nickname ‘Queen of elections’ through her leadership in previous successful elections. But many people think of her as an arrogant and dogmatic queen who makes important decisions on her own.”

“She has a much higher profile than any other candidate because she is a daughter of President Park Chung-hee,” said psychology professor Hwang Sang-min of Yonsei University. “This gives her a stable political support base, but also makes her a symbol of the establishment and a kind of remnant of days gone by.”

Economics professor Jang Ha-seong from Korea University said her political leadership was her best strength, and that she has proven her crisis management ability in two previous general elections, in 2004 and last April, when the party was in a defensive position.

“She also set ‘economic democratization’ as her main policy agenda earlier than any other candidate,” Jang said. “It was a good move as a ruling party candidate because she was able to lay the groundwork to attract young voters.” Economic democratization has since been adopted by most other candidates, vowing to rein in big business and narrow income inequality.

Park’s weakness in communication was evident when she defended her father’s military coup in 1961 as being “unavoidable, yet his best possible choice” during a discussion hosted by the Korea News Editors’ Association in Seoul in mid-July.

“That showed a lack of tolerance for other people’s historical perspectives,” said economics professor Seong Tae-yoon from Yonsei University.

Another weakness has been her coterie, according to some of the analysts.

“It’s very hard to find new and young politicians around her,” said Jeong Han-wool, head of the Center for Public Opinion Research at the East Asia Institute and co-author of the book “The Park Geun-hye Phenomenon.”

“She’s surrounded by politicians who have been power-hungry since the Kim Dae-jung administration,” said Jang from Korea University. “It’s very scary what these people are going to do if Park becomes president.”

Other analysts said Park should recruit more young political blood like Lee Jun-seok, 27, the Harvard-educated chief executive of the startup company Class Studio. Lee is a former member of the ruling party’s emergency leadership council.

Ahn Sang-hoon, a social welfare professor from Seoul National University, needs a more motherly image to use her advantage as the first female presidential candidate. “Her father already achieved great economic progress with his leadership and his image as a strong father,” he said. “She has to concentrate on developing welfare policies like a mother managing a family.”

The analysts named Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, as Park’s main rival. Seven out of 11 analysts named Ahn, who has yet to declare a bid.

Three analysts named Sohn Hak-gyu, former Democratic United Party chairman, and one chose Moon Jae-in, former chief of staff of late President Roh Moo-hyun.

“If Ahn Cheol-soo joins the presidential race, it’s a confrontation of ‘old versus new politics’ and ‘older versus younger generation,’” said Kim Myeong-jun, a political science professor from Myongji University.

“Ahn is stronger than Park in attracting voters in metropolitan areas in their 30s and 40s as well as white-collar workers. The results of previous presidential elections were strongly influenced by these groups.”

Jang from Korea University said the combination of Ahn Cheol-soo and Sohn Hak-gyu would be the biggest threat to Park if they can unite behind either one of them as candidate. “Ahn Cheol-soo is a symbol of a shift in generations, but his political leadership isn’t proven yet,” Jang said.

By Jeong Hyo-sik, Lee So-ah []
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