President Park Geun-hye arrives at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday, after a week-long visit to Russia and Vietnam. / Yonhap
Lady of steel has long memory, outsmarts foes and sets leadership model
By Chung Min-uck
For 16 years, ex-President Chun Doo-hwan had resisted pressure to pay tens of billions of won in fines he owed to the state.
President Park has done what none of her male predecessors — Lee Myung-bak, Roh Moo-hyun, Kim Dae-jung — could do, and forced Chun to publicly commit to paying the money.
Of course, the events of all presidencies have left their mark on the nation's history. Park Chung-hee, the President's father, was assassinated in 1979, so Chun, then an Army lieutenant-general who headed the powerful Defense Security Command, staged a coup with co-conspirator and his successor, Roh Tae-woo.
But at least Roh paid the fine levied against him into the state coffers.
Park left Cheong Wa Dae violently and unceremoniously.
It would not be surprising to learn if former President Lee once feared that he could have suffered the same fate.
Only months after he left office, Lee's trophy accomplishments — the four-river restoration project and exports of nuclear power plant technology — are under investigation. Some political observers say the prosecution's unprecedented search for Chun's property was part of a vengeful action pursued by President Park.
The relationship between the current leader and Chun dates back to 1976 when he joined the presidential office of her father as a high-ranking military official.
However, things changed when Chun seized power in a military coup in December 1979 after the late President Park was assassinated by the head of the national spy agency two months before.
Around 10 billion won of political funds was found in the late Park's safe but Chun gave only 600 million won to the current President Park, an orphaned survivor after both her parents were assassinated.
Political commentators say Park had a "strong feeling of betrayal" because of Chun's action.
"The reason why the prosecutors are searching aggressively for Chun's money is because President Park is assisting from behind," said one commentator who declined to be named, Wednesday. "Park has no debt of gratitude to Chun. Their support base is the same as well which makes it easier for her to go after him."
In addition, Chun, while serving as president, declared the Park Chung-hee years to be an "era of corruption" to justify his coup.
Observers say that President Park is showing her commitment to "trust and principles" which she has emphasized since she was inaugurated in February.
In an interview in June, she made clear her position regarding Chun's illegal accumulation of funds saying the new government will "resolve the issue that has remained idle for over 10 years."
In 1997, the nation's top court convicted the former President of mutiny, treason and bribery and ordered him to return to state coffers around 220 billion won he illegally received in bribes during his iron-fisted rule.
On Tuesday, Chun, through the mouth of his 53-year-old son, announced that he would voluntarily return to the state 167.2 billion won worth of real estate and financial assets.
Meanwhile, Park's drive to break away from the previous administration has been consistent and decisive.
In a report released July 10, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), highlighted the negative effects on the environment, of former President Lee Myung-bak's flagship four-river project, reversing its initial green light of it.
Yang Kun, then BAI chairman and Lee's close aide, resigned following this announcement, saying that there had been "pressure from outside."
Park developed hard feelings against Lee when she was "deceived" by a pro-Lee faction in the ruling Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party) after many of her associates failed to gain party nominations to run in the parliamentary election in 2008.
After this, Park and Lee locked horns over the latter's key policies including a revision to the Sejong City relocation plan.