Clearer explanation neededThe ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye’s press conference yesterday to clear up suspicions over the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation fell short of our expectations. It not only failed to address creeping suspicion but can hardly avoid criticism that she is not prepared to wrap up the controversy before the December election.
The scholarship foundation was created by a forced donation by Kim Ji-tae, a Busan businessman whose estate was confiscated by a general-turned-president, Park Chung Hee, after a military coup in 1961 on charges of corruption. The question here is whether Kim’s donation was voluntary or forced. Park made a slip of the tongue yesterday as she was not aware of the ruling of the first court trial. The court ruled that it’s hard to believe the former president had entirely deprived Kim of his free will on the donation, even though coerciveness was recognized in the process of confiscation. Park first asserted the court ruled there had been no coercion. Later, Park backpedaled on her earlier remark. The question is whether that is a mere mistake or a critical lack of sincerity on the issue and about the misdeeds of her father.
Park emphasized over and over that the scholarship foundation is independent and has had no trouble doing its job. Responding to the opposition Democratic United Party’s demand for the resignation of all executive members of the foundation - including Choi Phil-lip, the chairman of the board appointed by Park after she stepped down from the post in 2005 - she went so far as to say that it constitutes a political offense to demand an all-out resignation of the executives just because of their ties to the founder. Park later stepped back, saying, “I think the board members should make wise decisions so that they can calm down people’s persistent suspicions.” That translates into a calling for concrete action in the face of controversy - even though the leadership apparently did nothing wrong. That violates the politics of principle that Park allegedly cherishes.
She should accept the view that the board members resign as the foundation is an aberration. Even if the foundation was set up with a voluntary donation, it is linked to Park Chung Hee and his first lady - the name Jeongsu was borrowed from their names. Moreover, her appointment of Choi Phil-lip, a former protocol secretary to her father, as chairman of the board was not appropriate. Park Geun-hye must make a drastic decision and recognize the tainted history of the foundation.