Park Geun-hye’s bumpy road to presidency
Before a leader seeks to govern a country and the world, one must cultivate one's morals and manage one’s family well. This Chinese adage is applicable to Park Geun-hye.
She stands at the forefront of saving the divided, disoriented and rudderless, leaderless governing Grand National Party. She seems like a relief pitcher at the bottom of the ninth inning of a crucial baseball game.
GNP lawmakers were unanimous in calling her to rescue the wrecked ship facing an imminent sinking. She reluctantly accepted the offer.
She is partly responsible for making the GNP what it is, however. Although the GNP holds a majority in the National Assembly, President Lee Myung-bak was unable to run the country effectively. She was reluctant to support President Lee. The pro-Park faction in the GNP often put the brakes on what Lee was doing.
She got credit for saving the party in 2004 when the GNP campaign managers received bags of banknotes from tycoons at underground or expressway parking lots. She was bold enough to sell the party headquarters and opened an improvised tent in Seoul's Yoido.
It is true that Park is one of the most influential politicians since the three Kims ― Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil. She has the nickname “election queen” as she engineered the GNP's victory in the local election in 2006 as well as all by-elections under her leadership.
Her bone-grinding reform saved the corrupt party and helped the GNP reemerge as the largest opposition party under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration.
The GNP is worse now than seven years ago. Park needs a powerful shock therapy to help the divisive party recapture the hearts of disgruntled voters. She must prove herself. Without retooling the distressed party, she has little chance of winning the presidential election in December. Before her running for the presidency, she faces an urgent task of helping the party win the general elections in April.
Her drive for reforming the GNP would become hollow unless she puts her family issues in comprehensive order.
She must cut her link to the Chungsoo Foundation her father established. The foundation's name is the combination of the names of her parents Park Chung-hee and Yuk Young-soo. She has been its de facto owner. The foundation has a 30 percent stake in MBC Seoul, owns 100 percent of the Busan Daily and MBC Busan. She is the de facto owner of Youngnam University in Taegu. She and her family members also control the Yukyoung Foundation named after her late mother Yuk Young-soo. The non-profit foundation with the English name of Korean Children's Center has been a source of family dispute involving the siblings and relatives of the late Park. Its wealth is beyond the imagination of ordinary people.
The foundations have not undergone public scrutiny since her father's assassination in 1979. Chungsoo Foundation's original name was May 16 Foundation to commemorate her father's coup on May 16 in 1961. The now-defunct Central Intelligence Agency had bullied Busan-based businessman Kim Ji-tae to turn over his Buil Foundation to the government. Thus, Buil Foundation is the predecessor of Chungsoo Foundation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged the return of Chungsoo Foundation to the original owner in 2007. She and her family did not accept the recommendation.
The foundation has purportedly been the pipeline for her political funding. The 59-year-old challenged the commission's recommendation as a political offensive aimed at putting scratches on her. Park says she is no longer involved in the foundations. She claims to have returned the foundations to society. Few accept her insistence at face value. Despite her resignation from the leadership of the controversial foundations, she is the largest shareholder.
It may be difficult for a daughter to acknowledge her father's wrongdoings. However, she may face derailment in her presidential race unless she disposes of the foundations in a transparent and convincing way. Her sticking to the foundation would risk spoiling her clean image as a leader. She must liquidate the dark legacy of her father's 18-year authoritarian rule by returning to the government illegal wealth her father had amassed.
At least she must clarify how much money she has or how much wealth she inherited from her father. It is a shackle she must get rid of.
She is now behind IT mogul Ahn Cheol-soo in an imagined two-way presidential race. Ahn recently donated half of his assets to society.
Her clarification on her wealth will free her from the stigma of the daughter of the dictator and the princess with a notebook. She should erase the lingering public perception that she is a privileged child in a royal family. The taciturn leader only speaks publicly from prepared manuscripts. Her father is both an asset and a liability to her. It would be a Sisyphean task to put the party in order without changing herself first. Her hesitation would make her reform drive a castle in the air.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org