Park Geun Hye for President….Watch this space

In Let's Get Political on February 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Korean politics, indeed like all politics, is a funny beast.  Parties merge, defect, and undergo enough name changes that require this researcher to keep a running cheat sheet.  The current president, Lee Myung Bak of the Grand National Party (한나라당), was elected in 2007 in a landslide victory and at the time was a vastly popular choice.  Now three years into his five year term, the former Seoul mayor has largely worn out his welcome.  Popular opinion holds that he is not a man of the people, and his support comes from those with vested interests.  Despite an election being 2 years away, there is already much speculation as to those who will contend the position.

In the lead-up to the 2007 election, the GNP had another strong candidate for the leadership.  No stranger to politics or the limelight, Park Geun Hye was Lee Myung Bak’s greatest threat.  She eventually lost the nomination and had to concede defeat, but she has not bowed out of the game completely.  In fact, she now readies herself for a campaign to take the big seat in 2012.

But who is this woman who could potentially be South Korea’s first female president?  Public opinion of her tends to split violently, and she can be either adored or detested.  So far it has not been an easy case to crack as to why.  Regardless, she has been interesting to investigate.  I have come to my first conclusion that when considering Park Geun Hye and her political favor, there are two people in the room.  She carries the legacy of being the daughter of one Korea’s most influential, respected, mistrusted and some say tyrannical leaders of the past century.

Park Chung Hee became president of South Korea in 1961 following a military coup.  His ascendancy was welcomed at the time, as Korean citizens had endured a sustained period of political instability.  Park Chung Hee’s successes cannot be downplayed as he is credited to be the father of industrializing the peninsula, and Korea’s economic growth was substantial.  However his iron fisted rule sparked numerous speculations of human rights abuses and corruption.  Public sentiment for Chung Hee simmered to boiling after he violated an agreement he had signed, limiting his presidency to only 2 terms.  A spuriously lucky individual, he survived 2 assassination attempts, the second of which saw a misdirected bullet claim the life of his wife Yuk Young Soo.  The third time unlucky, Park Chung Hee was shot to death by the head of the Korean CIA, the same organization he had used to prolong his presidency.

So it would seem that being the daughter of this, one of Korea’s most famous (or infamous depending on your side of the fence) political figures could not help but shadow Park Geun Hye’s career.  Following the death of her mother, Geun Hye became the country’s First Lady at the tender age of 22.  Her life’s calling could not have held many other paths.   She herself has suffered violent attempts on her life, including one assassination attempt, and one occasion where a 50 year old man slashed her face with a box cutter.   Take a minute to consider what it must be like to have both your parents killed for political reasons, and your own life almost following a similar fate.

The wounds that Park Chung Hee inflicted and the broken promises he left in his wake have left a lasting impact.  But the progress and stability he provided at a crucial stage of Korea’s development has also not been forgotten.  Korea has a long memory.  It does not forgive quickly nor forget slowly.   Perhaps Park Geun Hye is supported for her commitment and drive for her political success.  Perhaps she is resented for the sins of her father and likewise mistrusted.  She is outwardly critical of much of the current administration’s policies, making no bones about her continued challenge to Lee Myung Bak.

Taken from Hankyoreh Geurimpan, Feb. 11, 2010__________________

President Lee Myung-bak enjoys a cup of coffee and sits on former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, but becomes increasingly uneasy from the tremors beneath him and asks, “Is it another earthquake?” An earthquake measuring 3.0 on the Richter scale shook the capital region in South Korea on Feb. 9.

The source of the tremors coming from the ground, however, is not an earthquake. Park, who can barely contain her criticism says, “What should I do if someone in a house becomes a thief…?” Observers are interpreting the remark to be criticism directed at President Lee Myung-bak for his administration’s revisions to the Sejong City Development Plan.

President Lee criticized Park on Feb. 9 for her attitude regarding the revisions by saying, “If people come face to face with a thief, they should stop their fighting and work to catch them.”


Regardless of these conjectured motivations, she undoubtedly has support, and in a recent phone poll of 1,024 adults she came out on top with a 35.4% lead.  Of course, I feel less than inspired by the accuracy of phone polls, but they are still numbers.  17.5% of respondents supported her because it was ‘time for a female’ and 10.5% lent support because of her father.  Like I said, it’s still numbers.  But I will no doubt be watching this space.

The Park family bearing a striking resemblance to a Kennedy snapshot.


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