Contest for Park’s past and future
The late Kim Keun-tae, a democratic activist leader who fought against former President Park Chung Hee, said, “Every president since Park Chung Hee has the unfortunate fate of competing against Park, who is already dead.” Kim was right. Park Chung Hee was in power for 18 years, accomplished economic development and turned around the competition of systems against North Korea. In various evaluations of presidents, Park ranks at the top.
Kim said that 18 years are a nearly unlimited amount of time for one politician can have. Moreover, Park had an authoritarian agency above the law to incapacitate opposition. His every word was the law, and the efficiency of his rule was maximized. The presidents who only serve one five-year term and have to worry about becoming a lame duck in the latter part of their administrations must feel unfairly compared to Park.
Park Geun-hye, Park Chung Hee’s daughter and the president-elect, is no exception in the unfair competition against the former president. Can living Park Geun-hye win over dead Park Chung Hee? It will be a hard contest. Park Geun-hye needs to resolve the issue of the welfare dead zone, which is the shadow of the economic growth her father attained. She also has to add more jobs. The relationship with North Korea’s nuclear program is another challenge. The 48 percent of the voters who did not support Park in the last election are still giving her cold glances.
What should she do? She has only one way to win this game. It will surely be painful, but she needs to part from her present self, which is an accumulation of her past. Her father, Park Chung Hee, sacrificed democratic values, processes and procedures for utility. Park Geun-hye not only inherited biological DNA from her father but also continues his political legacy. She needs to show that she is determined to prove the foreign media, which defined her as the “dictator’s daughter,” wrong. Only by severing her ties to her father can she embrace the 48 percent of the voters who opposed her and become the president of 100 percent of the citizens, securing the driving force for Park Geun-hye’s reform.
Is she up to the task? If you look at the past of a person, you can mostly predict their future. Who ignited the debate over economic democracy and welfare, the biggest issues in the presidential election? It was Park Geun-hye, the leader of the Grand National Party, which is far from progressive. Moreover, economic democratization is the No. 1 doctrine of the opposition Democratic United Party. It is no coincidence that Park Geun-hye was named the candidate who is most likely to accomplish economic democratization in various surveys.
Her welfare promise would cost 135 trillion won ($124 billion) in five years, and despite concerns from officials and experts, she does not budge at all. She is trying to keep her campaign promise to take care of the underprivileged. That’s Park Geun-hye. She is displaying self-retrospective and reform-minded competency that the Korean conservatives had lacked beyond imagination. In her New Year’s greeting, she sent out a message that she would part from old things. Hopefully, she will listen to public opinion and respect the legislature and the opposition party. If she skips the process of communication and makes decisions based on her beliefs, her backward leadership will damage democracy.
I’d like to cite Park Chung Hee’s inaugural address after defeating Yun Po-sun in the 1963 presidential election, the first to be held after transferring power to the civilian government. “Today’s democracy is especially valuable because the opinions of the minorities defeated in the election are respected and protected. Democracy is not possible by a few leaders or privileged people. It is attained through individual awareness and responsibility, mutual compromise and tolerance and social stability.”
He had mature understanding and strong conviction of democratic values. But he had to compromise his democratic values to enhance the utility of his rule to escape from poverty, accomplish industrialization and modernization and win in the rivalry against North Korea. Then, the president-elect may want to consider expansion of democratic values realizing her father’s unattained dream. The president-elect said that her father’s ultimate dream was building a welfare state. She may be trying to re-live her father’s dream by focusing on welfare.
Park Geun-hye has created an agenda by herself and reformed the party to win the election. She is an exceptional figure not swayed by certain factions. So she may be the most suitable politician to integrate history and citizens regardless of factional interests. She needs to shift the paradigm to a communication-oriented democracy. It is the way to retrieve a macroscopic balance in democracy and utility while enhancing the rationality of Korean society at the international level. It is also the only way to complete her father’s contribution on the stage of history. The success of the president-elect depends on the contest between Park Geun-hye’s past and future.
*The author is senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Ha-kyung