Rep. Park Geun-hye, a leading presidential contender of the ruling Saenuri Party, holds up a blouse recommended by the owner of a clothing shop at X-Milano, a fashion department store in Daegu, during a campaign tour in the southern city, Tuesday. / Yonhap
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Minor presidential contenders of the ruling Saenuri Party attacked Rep. Park Geun-hye for her characterization of the May 16, 1961, coup, through which her late father took power, as “inevitable and best possible choice.”
Speaking to a seminar with senior journalists in Seoul Monday, the presidential frontrunner said the historic event served as the cornerstone of what Korea is today. Park added historians and the public will reinterpret the historic event some day.
On Tuesday, her remarks drew a barrage of criticism from opponents.
Governor of Gyeonggi Province Kim Moon-soo, also running for president, said in an interview that Park’s goes against what the Constitution states.
“Under the Constitution, the people are entitled to select a president. No matter how urgent and desperate the situation facing the nation was back then, taking over power with military armament cannot be justified,” he said.
Admitting that late President Park Chung-hee had spearheaded the country’s successful industrialization, the governor said this cannot justify his seizing power.
In a radio interview, former presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee said no one would deny that it was a military coup and this would never change.
Some ruling party lawmakers also criticized the remarks.
Rep. Nam Kyung-phil said he disagreed with Park’s characterization of the May 16 coup.
Although presidential candidates’ assessment of the industrialization period will not become a key issue, Nam said their view could well affect middle-of-the-road voters’ in the presidential election, slated for Dec. 19.
The military coup took place when the nation was struggling one year after the April 19 pro-democracy movement helped the Democratic Party take office. High jobless rates and social instability showed no signs of improving, making it difficult for the government to control the situation.
This moved General Park to lead a military coup to wrestle power from the incompetent government.
The late President ruled the nation until Oct. 26, 1979 when he was assassinated by the head of the nation’s intelligence agency, making him Korea’s longest-serving leader.
During his rule, the country was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world but Park’s legacy is controversial as economic growth came with a repression of democracy.
The government cracked down on democracy fighters, ignoring the freedom of association and speech, with opponents to the regime falsely accused of having been involved in spy scandals and put behind bars.