A fresh start for Park Geun-hyePresidential hopeful from the ruling Saenuri Party Park Geun-hye bowed her head in a televised press conference to offer a “sincere apology” for the constitutional violations and human rights abuses under her father, military strongman Park Chung Hee. “In politics, goals cannot justify means,” she said, admitting for the first time that her father violated the Constitution during his rule from a military coup in 1961 until his assassination in 1979. She apologized to the victims of military coup, for the constitutional reform that lengthened Park’s rule in 1972 and for the execution of anti-government activists in 1974.
Park, who had been leading the presidential polls, has been under pressure to address the excesses and legacy of her father. She remained emotionally attached to issues regarding her father, and questions were raised about her historical view as a presidential candidate. Park described her father’s 1961 military coup as the “inevitable best possible choice given the circumstances” and also said history will evaluate the Yushin program, which was the constitutional rewrite that reinforced Park’s rule.
Her apology for past abuses and follies came only after she returned to a dead heat in polls with independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo. But her explanation is better late than never. She spoke in clear language to point out the problems of her father’s legacy, instead of playing with political rhetoric.
Her apology drew positive responses from her rivals. Moon Jae-in praised her courage and hoped it could serve as a starting point for social unity. Ahn said it must have been difficult to apologize, but Park did what was necessary.
Some in the main opposition party are supporting a bill to nullify the Yushin Constitution, but the past should be left as the past. Park showed us this with her apology. Any move beyond it would only prolong controversy.
Deng Xiaoping, a victim of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, said after gaining power in 1978 that what Mao contributed to the country was “seven parts good and three parts bad.” To end division and muster the social unity necessary for a better future, a leader needs such a broad-minded historical view.
We wish the three major candidates would contribute together to ending the age of hostility, mistrust and division. Then they will all play an important role in a historical turning point, regardless of who wins this election.