Lawmakers weigh in on president’s address

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Lawmakers weigh in on president’s address

President Park Geun-hye cleared her calendar yesterday and the day before to deliberate on the content of an address she is set to deliver as early as next week that will include an apology for the government’s mishandling of the Sewol ferry accident.

It was anticipated that she would give a speech sometime this week to mark one month since the disaster, in which the 6,825-ton passenger ship capsized in waters off the country’s southwestern coast, leaving more than 300 people dead or missing.

But the president, a perfectionist who is known to keep a tight grip on her scripts until the last minute, has been postponing her speech in order to focus on the advice of the ruling and opposition parties. The event is likely to be televised live and will be conducted from the Blue House.

Park’s approval ratings have fallen by almost 30 percentage points from near 70 percent in the wake of the accident. With less than three weeks left before the June 4 local elections, ratings are critical.

The public’s loss of confidence in the president resulted, to a large extent, from bureaucrats’ poor handling of the crisis. Park has been under heavy pressure to deliver “sincere” apologies to the nation and is currently drafting a grand master plan that would reform Korea’s safety system and eradicate rampant red tape among bureaucrats.

The ruling Saenuri Party demanded that she express “poignant” signs of self-reflection.

“As president, she should take an infinite political responsibility for the people’s dignity and lives,” said Representative Rhee In-je, a six-term lawmaker who has run for the presidency three times. “She should express her sorrow and seek apologies from the people for the loss of so many young lives, in particular.”

Representative Kim Moo-sung, a four-term lawmaker, added that Park should not blame any specific people or group for the accident. “She should not evade responsibility and will have to persuade the people based on that rationale,” he said.

Park Young-sun, the new floor leader for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) agreed. “The president should show during the address that she admits the government was responsible for the tragedy,” she said.

NPAD Representative Min Byung-du also advised Park to refrain from hiring bureaucrats for key government posts from now on. “The president must come up with a new system of monitoring government officials and holding them in check,” he said.

In her 17-year political career, President Park has dealt with a number of crises. In March 2004, when she was appointed chairwoman of the main opposition Grand National Party, the predecessor of Saenuri, the party came close to collapse after spearheading President Roh Moo-hyun’s impeachment, which enraged a significant number of Koreans.

To work toward resolving the crisis and recover public grace ahead of the general election, Park opted to relocate the party office the following month from a building in Yeouido, in western Seoul, to a tent nearby. She also paid visits to various religious leaders to offer her apologies. Notably, at Jogye Temple, she bowed 108 times, a physically demanding type of prayer.

Those efforts led the party to gain 121 seats out of total 300 in the 2004 general election, an impressive feat.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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