Park likely to lay low in election celebration

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Park likely to lay low in election celebration

President Park Geun-hye is expected to keep a low profile tomorrow, the anniversary of her presidential election victory, amid a turbulent security situation sparked by turmoil in the North Korean political system and a challenging political scene at home, too.

Although polls show her approval rating hovering above 50 percent - upbeat by Korean standards - she’s seen to be on thin ice as the opposition continues to howl about state-sponsored dirty tricks during last year’s election campaign.

“The first anniversary will be just like any other day,” said Lee Jung-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, on Monday. “President Park is scheduled to meet with small-business men at the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business headquarters in western Seoul on Dec. 19. We are planning some very quiet and small events and won’t make such a fuss as to announce them in advance.”

Park is also known for thriftiness, which she claims she inherited from her father, former President Park Chung Hee. Throwing an anniversary party or even dining casually with Blue House officials or correspondents is not her style.

On the back of a campaign pledge to “open a new era of helping all citizens achieve their dream,” Park won the election by a whopping 51.6 percentage margin - the largest since Korea adopted its presidential election system in 1987 - and was inaugurated last Feb. 25.

Park’s low-key anniversary is a break from the precedents of past presidents. Predecessor Lee Myung-bak held a small party at the Blue House on Dec. 19, 2008, to celebrate not only the anniversary of his presidential victory - by a margin of 22.6 percentage points - but also his 67th birthday and 38th wedding anniversary, all of which fell on the same day.

Lee, a former Seoul mayor, invited some 100 presidential office workers and his wife to the Blue House cafeteria for lunch. The employees presented him with a cake and a scarf while Lee gave the first lady a flower basket containing 38 roses and a card. The president also gave out tteok, or rice cakes, to the entire Blue House staff.

President Roh Moo-hyun had a particularly gloomy anniversary 10 years ago. He was embroiled in an illegal political fundraising scandal at the time and was impeached four months later, although he was reinstated after two months. He committed suicide in May 2009 while in the middle of prosecution probe.

On Dec. 19, 2003, Roh attended a ceremony hosted by some 2,000 of his supporters in Yeouido, western Seoul, where he delivered a speech. The Democratic Party, which Roh left after being elected, criticized the president for the event. Party Chairman Chough Soon-hyung criticized him for celebrating with “less than a handful” of Korea’s 45 million citizens.

Roh held a press conference on Dec. 16, three days prior to the anniversary, and said he took pride in “succeeding in an election revolution.”

The liberal president defeated his conservative rival Lee Hoi-chang by a narrow 2 percentage point margin.


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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