Isolation becomes her“The Park Geun-hye phenomenon is a reality. She is loved by the public and boasts overwhelming power in politics.”
When “Park Geun-hye Phenomenon” was published two years ago, even liberal critics, like the one quoted above, acknowledged the politician’s phenomenal popularity. But the magic seems to have faded. The current political phenomenon is another candidate, independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo. What has changed in the meantime?
In the past, Park’s presence as a politician was clear. On Aug. 20, 2007 she lost the presidential primary of the Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party) by 2,452 votes. When her supporters claimed that the primary wasn’t valid, she said, “Let’s forget about all the things that happened in the course of the primary. If we can’t forget them all overnight, we should try for a few days. When our hearts are filled with a new passion, let’s use the passion to bring a change in the administration.”
Let’s not discuss if she actually accepted that defeat. At that particular moment, the outdated habit of instinctively not accepting a primary loss was broken, at least among the presidential hopefuls.
On June 29, 2010, Park was standing at the podium of the National Assembly’s main chamber. She was one of 12 lawmakers debating the revision of the Sejong City project. It was a rare scene in the Assembly for such a powerful politician to have a discussion over legislation with other lawmakers.
In 2004, Park visited Kim Dae-jung and said, “As a daughter, I apologize for your sufferings during my father’s rule.” She has also said, “We need to cherish the April 19 Revolution Cemetery and the May 18 Democratization Movement Cemetery.” Earlier that year, she led the era of the so-called “tent headquarters” for the GNP, when she operated as interim leader of the party from a tent. From 2001, she advocated separation of party and presidency, paving the way for a new culture in the history of Korean politics where the president became a regular member of the party and the title of “party chairman” became virtually obsolete.
Once, Park used to be considered a conservative reformist and the most suitable person to bring about the long-awaited reconciliation of the Gyeongsang and Jeolla regions. That was the root of the Park Geun-hye phenomenon. After the recent controversies over her view of Korea’s recent history and the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, however, she is considered an out-of-touch authoritarian who relies on a few close aides and a woman whose sense of history is quite different from that of most Koreans. The change in her image happened in the last several months or the last year.
In fact, her comments on her father, former President Park Chung Hee, have not changed that much. About the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, she said in August 2004, “It was voluntarily donated to be used for good purposes.” Around the same time, President Roh Moo-hyun said that he sought various measures to give the foundation back to the surviving family of Kim Ji-tae, a Busan businessman, but he could not find a legitimate way.
Now Park is being criticized, mainly because her status has changed. Some things are allowed to opposition leaders but not permitted a president or someone who aspires to become president. As she gained greater power, the public has grown more vigilant, even if it may involve a misunderstanding.
Park has not been upgraded according to her changed status. While she had more than five years to prepare for her candidacy, her historical perspective, her circle of aides and supporters, and her way of managing power have not changed much. I even wonder what she has been doing all this time.
It is regrettable that she still perceives Park Chung Hee merely as her father. When citizens are suffering or in pain, she should feel angry. But she only gets furious over things related to her father. She has not realized that citizens sneer at a president who is transformed into someone’s husband or father.
Meanwhile, patriotism, which was her strength, has faded, and her love for her father has been highlighted. People around her feel isolated. Even those who were devoted to her were excluded from her small circle of cronies. Moreover, some of her minor flaws are amplified into serious weaknesses. People always thought it was hard to communicate with her, but now her lack of communication skills is criticized as being a result of crony politics. In the past, her aides were criticized for failing to support and guide her properly. Now, the attacks swerve around the aides and go straight to the candidate.
Park told former President Roh Moo-hyun, “The president is misunderstood by many. While others consider the president a man of power, it is a very lonely post.” And she added, “There is no politician or president that can win over the citizens.” She needs to remind herself of her own wise words. Also, she can learn from the advice of Tang Dynasty minister Wei Zheng. “Listen to both sides and you will be enlightened; listen to only one side and you will be left in the dark.” She must listen to the voices of citizens - the citizens of 2012, not of the 1970s.
* The author is deputy editor of political and international news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ko Jung-ae