Park under fire over advisory group
By Chung Hee-hyung
By Chung Hee-hyung
The so called “Committee of Seven” supporting the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential frontrunner Park Guen-hye has been drawing increasing public interest recently.
Most political observers see it as a “mentor” group packed with senior politicians whose advice wields considerable influence over Park’s decision-making.
The members in turn protest that the committee is purely informal and plays only an “advisory” role with only occasional meetings among its members.
“They are no longer politically active, and the committee has met Park herself only once after the April parliamentary elections,” said Kim Yung-hwan, a senior member of the Saenuri Party.
But a closer look at the member’s list shows that the group may exert much more political clout than this modest explanation suggests. All of them are considered strongly conservative, and a majority of the members had served in key governmental posts during the late Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship in the 1970s, including chief of staff, attorney general and minister of finance.
Another member has worked as a managing editor for the conservative Chosun Ilbo before devising election strategies for the Grand National Party (the predecessor to the Saenuri Party) in 2007. The group also includes a former Army general who was newly elected to the National Assembly and is widely expected to become the speaker.
Surrounding oneself with such prominent figures from Park Chung-hee’s era, whose rule is a highly controversial topic in the country’s political landscape, may have mixed results.
Park Chung-hee, Park Guen-hye’s father, is credited with bringing South Korea out of poverty through industrialization and rapid economic growth. The dictator, however, is also criticized for his authoritarian rule which saw citizens deemed politically unacceptable to the military regime tortured and even executed. His 16-year presidency was eventually ended when he was assassinated by his spy chief.
Park Geun-hye’s political opponents criticize her for “remaking” her father’s image, and portraying herself as a victim of long political persecution after his death. But even critics grudgingly admit that ties to her father may be her biggest political asset.
“Voters associate her personal life story politically, and her pure and innocent image is another boost to that association,” wrote the leftist Hankyoreh newspaper in explaining why she was able to beat everyone’s expectation and secure the party’s victory in the last parliamentary election.
Such ties with her deceased father, however, may also act as a political liability. All but one of the committee’s members are over 70, and their highly conservative look may not help Park whose party got less than 30 percent of the vote among those in their 20s and 30s in the month’s election.
“The conservative stance of the seven members may destroy whatever image Park has managed to cultivate among young voters,” said a lawmaker who belongs to the Saenuri Party’s reformist faction.
The weakness was not lost on the opposition Democratic United Party (DUP).
“The group is old-fashioned and reactionary, and we should never let them run the government,” declared floor leader Park Jie-won at the party’s primary in South Gyeongsang Province on Saturday.
Park Geun-hye’s camp, for its part, is doing all it can to describe the committee as harmless as its only role is to provide occasional advice to the ruling party’s frontrunner.
“The seven members of course agree that it would be desirable for the country to have Park as the president,” said Kim Yung-hwan. “But that’s about it. They are too old to take active roles in politics and are unlikely to serve key posts even if Park gets elected.” How successful such downplaying of their image remains to be seen.
Park Geun-hye herself denied that she had ever heard of the term, “Committee of Seven,” downplaying the role of her controversial mentors.
The former chairwoman of the ruling party concded that she had meetings with the members of the disputed committee, but argued she only happened to attend their lunch gatherings once or twice.