Park has to answer some tough questions
By Lee Tae-hoon
Rep. Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party, cleared a hurdle Monday that no woman has ever managed to get over – being nominated as the presidential candidate of a ruling party.
The eldest daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee, who is both revered and hated for his 18-year authoritarian rule, failed to win her party’s ticket to enter the presidential poll in 2007.
Despite stronger support within the party, she lost to incumbent President Lee Myung-bak in the primary, failing to beat Lee in opinion polls that accounted for 20 percent of the selection process.
The 60-year-old has thus far managed to maintain the highest support rate among potential presidential contenders as well as a firm grip on the conservative party despite corruption scandals and a slew of negative allegations raised against her.
One may say she was lucky to steer clear of negative publicity with the help of Korean athletes’ outstanding performances at the Summer Olympics in London and a diplomatic spat between Korea and Japan following President Lee’s unprecedented visit to Dokdo.
Nevertheless, few would deny that a rough road lies ahead for the five-term lawmaker as she has yet to give satisfactory answers to lingering questions, including her involvement in a money-for-candidacy scandal, and a corruption allegation raised against her brother, Park Ji-man.
The Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, which was set up by the Park Chung-hee regime by allegedly extorting the assets of a non-profit organization established by Busan-based businessman Kim Ji-tae, is also one of her “Achilles’ heels.”
Opposition parties and civic groups suspect the Jeongsu Foundation, which has a 100-percent stake in the Busan Daily and a 30-percent stake in the broadcast MBC, is secretly controlled by Park Geun-hye and is used as a means of raising political funds for her.
Park came under criticism for her unwillingness to give the foundation back to the “rightful owner” and collecting hefty paychecks that amount to more than 2 billion won ($1.76 million) while serving as the head of the foundation between January 1988 and February 2005.
Party insiders say that she has made great efforts to clarify any possible corruption allegations against her.
“Park rejected her rivals’ call for the introduction of an open primary, not because of fears of losing in the interparty race, but to minimize the chance of a new corruption scandal rocking the Saenuri Party ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential election,” a party insider said.
“By the same token, she insists on delaying the country’s plan to procure 60 advanced fighter jets to eliminate any possibility of suspicions raised against her and her party over possible undue favors given a certain arms contractor for the 8.3 trillion won project.”
Political watchers note that Park has been extremely cautious not to jeopardize her leading status in the presidential race, but she has much to prove to persuade the people to vote for the nation’s first woman president.
They also point out that any revelation that confirms Park’s involvement or responsibility in corruption scandals concerning her close associates and family members will deal a critical blow to her.