Stepping out of her father’s shadow

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Stepping out of her father’s shadow

President Park Geun-hye returned to the Blue House after 33 years, three months and three days since she left the Blue House on Nov. 21, 1979.

While she was giving her inaugural speech, the audience applauded 33 times. She spent 18 years of her childhood at the Blue House during the rule of her father Park Chung Hee and now she is returning to the office as the 18th president of Korea.

The numbers are conspicuous, as if they were premeditated. And many are talking about the relationship between the daughter and the father with the mysterious numbers.

President Park has been in the shadow of her father and that is not because the people around her promoted it.

Park herself never tried to step out of the shadow. In her inauguration speech, she promised a “second miracle of the Han River,” a vision for the future named after the “miracle of the Han River” during her father’s rule.

She is not entirely wrong about the task. Right now, what people most desperately want is not having to worry about making ends meet.

It is natural that the country needs to find a new future growth engine that will create new jobs.

To this end, Park’s speech was very realistic. It deserves praise that she calmly streamlined the pledges that were once somewhat exaggerated during the presidential election.

It is, however, worrisome that she may try to apply her father’s way of running the country to not only select the agenda but to implement them because our society has completely changed now.

Her promise to create a “country where every single person will be happy” in the inauguration speech reminded me of a pamphlet handed out during her father’s October Restoration.

Before the constitutional amendment in October 1972, the government dismissed the National Assembly and engaged in massive promotion.

Children sang songs praising the October Restoration while they played. Leaflets were delivered to every house and I vividly remember the promise that every household - even those in farming villages - will own a car.

I was a middle school student from a rural town, and the image of a yellow car - drawn by the most famous cartoonist at the time - was more impressive than the abstract numbers in the slogan: $10 billion in exports and $1,000 national income per capita.

Eventually, Park Chung Hee’s promise was kept. Although he was criticized for political repression, he successfully modernized the country within a short period of time. China, now emerged as one of the G-2, actually used the Park Chung Hee model to build its economy. Korea is a model that many developing countries want to pursue.

That must be why Park Chung Hee had said, “Spit on my grave.” It is an expression reflecting his stubbornness that he wanted to be judged by his outcome.

He had strong conviction in what he did, and that invited strong resistance. And yet, he was able to rule the country for 18 years as he had control.

That kind of power only worked back then. There were forces that were above the law.

Even the ruler often provided political funds to the opposition parties. He had the power to carry out illegal surveillance, arrests, violence and torture. And yet, the time has changed and the fatigue for his rule accumulated, ending his era.

Today, we are living in a completely different time. Money and influence have almost disappeared from politics. Representative Kim Yoon-whan during the Roh Tae-woo administration was perhaps the last political coordinator. And yet, the people still expect mighty political power from the president.

A president who could not meet expectations sometimes shuts down the door of dialogue. As a result, President Roh Moo-hyun had to face impeachment and President Lee Myung-bak lost the driving force for his governance at the early stage of his term due to the candlelight demonstrations.

The situation is worrisome for President Park. The outside environments are not favorable - as seen by the worsened nuclear threat from North Korea - but at home, the political honeymoon disappeared even before she began her term. The government restructuring bills are deadlocked and confirmation hearings for her ministers are critically delayed.

Many different groups in the society plan to hold demonstrations, and popular protest venues in Seoul are fully booked already. Concerns are high that the debilitating candlelight demonstrations will return.

President Park, however, is walking a thin line after her presidential victory. She does not seem to care about public opinion of the appointments she made. It will be hard to expect her to telephone opposition lawmakers one after another to pass a bill, like U.S. President Barack Obama.

No strategist or flexible communicator is visible in the ruling party or among her associates. She only has loyal workers. The time she spent on betrayal and conspiracies - and her gender - appear to have built a high wall. It is scary that we may suffocate unless a breathing hole is created.

*The author is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook

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