Tag Archives: apology

Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president


Back in July, I suggested that  Park Geun-hye (박근혜) of the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’, the New Frontier Party) was defying gravity in her race for South Korea’s presidency, and I listed five reasons why:

South Korea Flag Icon

  • She’d rebranded her party from the Grand National Party into the ‘New Frontier’ Party.
  • She then led the Saenuri Party to victory in elections for the National Assembly in April despite the unpopularity of her party’s incumbent president Lee Myung-bak (이명박).
  • Even six months ago, she had already co-opted the message of the center-left on ‘economic democratization,’ chaebol reform and income inequality.
  • South Korea’s progressive opposition was largely divided.
  • Mixed feelings (including some nostalgia among older voters) about her father’s authoritarian reign from 1961 to 1979 largely neutralized potentially controversial family ties.

By the time South Koreans went to the polls yesterday, all of those factors contributed to her victory.

She has defeated Moon Jae-in (문재인) of the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) with 51.6% of the vote to just 47.9% for Moon, ending what was always a very close race — albeit one where Park always seems to hold a slight edge.

As we look ahead, all of those factors should equally inform us as to what to expect from Park — the first woman to become South Korea’s president — and her incoming administration.

By rebranding her party as the ‘New Frontier’ Party — and making clear that the new frontier would not include Lee (who narrowly defeated Park for her party’s presidential nomination in 2007) — and then running against Lee’s record as much as against her opponent, she neutralized one of the most significant impediments to her candidacy.  She reinforced the split during the spring legislative campaign — and, by the way, she’ll enter the Blue House with a very friendly parliament as well.  Moon, had he won the election, would have been hampered by a hostile Saenuri majority, but Park will find a largely pliant National Assembly — Saenuri legislators know that they would not have that majority without Park.  So she’ll wield significant power as president in order to push through her campaign agenda.

That agenda, frankly, does not appear dissimilar to the agenda Moon promised.  While the policy details have been less than detailed, Park’s campaign emphasized traditionally liberal themes, and that moderate agenda certainly helped elect Park yesterday.  If Park wants to avoid the unpopularity of her predecessor, she’ll have to produce legislative accomplishments, not only on chaebol reform, but also find a way to reduce Korean income inequality and, ultimately, she’ll probably need to be lucky enough to have robust GDP growth.

On North Korea, too, both candidates agreed that the next president should be more conciliatory to North Korea than Lee’s administration, but they shied away from advocating a full return to the ‘Sunshine Policy’ of the late 1990s and 2000s that increasingly seemed to South Koreans like a series of handouts in exchange for further aggression from North Korea.  So under Park, South Korea will likely retain its firm approach to North Korea, but with relatively more carrots than sticks.

In terms of the geopolitics of East Asia, Park — who assumed the role of first lady during her father’s administration at age 22 when, in 1974, her mother was assassinated by North Koreans — will certainly be no shrinking violet (get set for five years of hearing the phrase ‘the Iron Lady of Asia’).

Indeed, it’s a crucial time for East Asia, given that King Jong-un has been in power for only a year, Xi Jinping (习近平) only last month took over as general secretary of the Chinese Communist  Party (中国共产党) and is set early next year to become the president of the People’s Republic of China, and the hawkish Shinzō Abe (安倍 晋三) only last Sunday won Japan’s parliamentary elections, returning him to power as prime minister.  Park’s immersion in Korean politics since the 1970s and her perceived toughness (she once returned to the campaign trail in 2006 just days after an assailant slashed her in the face with a knife) also likely contributed to her victory yesterday. Continue reading Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president

Roh Moo-hyun haunts Moon’s candidacy in Korean presidential race


Although the conservative Park Geun-hye has had to fend off challenges tying her to the worst of massively unpopular incumbent Lee Myung-bak and her father, Park Chung-hee (South Korea’s autocratic ruler from 1961 to 1979), it’s another former South Korean president who may represent the largest millstone in the Dec. 19 presidential race.South Korea Flag Icon

Moon Jae-in, candidate of the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’), and a former chief of staff to Roh, has essentially no political identity separate from Roh.  He’s inescapably the heir to Roh, for better and for worse — for Roh’s supporters, Moon is an experienced champion of the policies Roh pursued; for Roh’s detractors, of course, Moon represents a return to the perceived incompetence and disappointment with Roh’s administration.

Park has had her challenges as the candidate of the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’), the New Frontier Party — and formerly the Grand National Party — the party to which Lee belongs, but voters don’t associate Park with Lee because Park comes from a different wing of the party, has a vastly different management style and background, and, above all, she has campaigned as much against her opponent, Moon, as she has against Lee.  If anything, voters (especially older voters) associate Park’s candidacy with her father, who gained power in a coup in 1961 and pulled South Korea’s economy into the developed world until his assassination in 1979.  Voters will recall that Park (the daughter) was essentially South Korea’s first lady from 1974 onwards, when her mother was also assassinated.  Despite the economic strides that South Korea made in the Park era, it made precious little progress in the area of political rights or democracy.

The campaign for human rights and a more democratic South Korea during the Park years is, in fact, the defining experience of both Roh and Moon — Roh’s emergence in South Korean politics coincided with the rise of the ‘386 Generation,’ a new generation of political leadership educated in the 1960s that came to politics demanding for greater freedoms and democracy.  Moon, a human rights lawyer, was actually imprisoned in the 1970s for his activist efforts against the Park regime.

Fundamentally, the ties that bound Moon to Roh were forged during that fight — against Park’s father.  Park (the daughter) has recently apologized during the campaign for the abuses of her father’s administration, although her father’s legacy probably helps Park among many Koreans nostalgic for what seems to them a golden era of growth and prosperity.

That makes this year’s South Korean election — especially with the withdrawal of popular software entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo from the race in late November — very much a prototypical ideological fight between the two major forces in South Korean political life for nearly half a century.

As such, it’s worth reflecting on Roh’s administration, Moon’s role in Roh’s administration, and the scandal that led to Roh taking his own life by jumping off a cliff in May 2009, which tragically elevated Moon in the public eye.

Roh’s suicide came after what many believed were politically motivated allegations of bribery surrounding his family and associates, but those allegations never really touched Moon.  Nonetheless, his suicide elevated the pro-Roh faction within South Korea’s progressive scene, including Moon (shown above at Roh’s funeral), who served as counsel to Roh during the post-presidential investigation and who organized Roh’s funeral.


Roh came to office as a bit of an outsider — he served briefly as minister of maritime affairs and fisheries under Kim Dae-jung, hardly the best profile for a 2002 presidential run.  But his conciliatory approach to North Korea and his calls for a more equal relationship with the United States, especially following the acquittal of two American soldiers who hit and killed two teenaged Korean girls with an armored vehicle in an accident in June 2002.

Roh continued Kim’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ toward North Korea to somewhat less than great effect, and turned out to be more conciliatory to the United States than many expected back in 2002.

But the defining aspect of Roh’s presidency was the virulent opposition he encountered from conservatives.   Continue reading Roh Moo-hyun haunts Moon’s candidacy in Korean presidential race

Park’s apology marks milestone in Korean presidential race

It’s hard to understate just how important (if inevitable) it was for South Korean presidential candidate Park Geun-hye to make the following statement earlier this week:

“Behind our history of miraculous growth, there were the sacrifices of workers who suffered under harsh working environments, and behind our guarding of national security against North Korea there were violations of human rights by public authorities.”

“I once again offer my sincere apologies to the people who suffered wounds and hardship as a result, and to their family members.”

Those words come in relation to the legacy of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who took power in a coup in 1961 and held power until his assassination in 1979.  Park Chung-hee is credited with lifting South Korea out of poverty in the wake of the Korean War and transforming the South Korean economy into one of the most efficient and developed in Asia.  The South Korean economy is today one of the world’s most productive and developed, and it’s certain that Park Chung-hee’s administration deserves credit for that.

But his legacy remains tarnished by authoritarian rule that did not tolerate free speech or dissent of any kind.  His regime engaged in political arrests and torture, and his rule morphed into a dictatorship despite promises of making South Korea more democratic.  South Koreans, to this day, have incredibly mixed feelings about Park Chung-hee.

As such, the legacy of Park Chung-hee is invariably at the heart of his daughter’s campaign — when Park Guen-hye’s mother was assassinated in 1974, Park Guen-hye essentially took on the role of first lady in lieu of her late mother.  Indeed, much of her success comes from a sense of nostalgia among those who see the 1960s and 1970s as a time of unparalleled growth for South Korea.  There’s no question of South Korea turning back from democracy, which has been entrenched in South Korea since the 1980s, but there is a sense that South Korean voters have wanted Park Guen-hye to acknowledge and transcend the darker aspects of Park Chung-hee’s legacy.

In the past, as recently as earlier this month, Park Geun-hye has been both dismissive and defensive over the less noble aspects of her father’s regime.  In making the apology, Park Geun-hye, also showed a rare emotional side:

“I’m sure all of you know how difficult it is in this country for a child to judge his or her parents, and especially to make a public statement about their misdeeds. I do not think that the people of Korea really want me, a daughter, to spit on her father’s grave,” she said.

East Asian politics is not known for its “I feel your pain” politicking, but Park Guen-hye has a particularly formal and stiff image even by East Asian standards. Continue reading Park’s apology marks milestone in Korean presidential race

Labour leads, as Clegg and the Lib Dems struggle during UK convention season

As conference season gets underway in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party, under relatively new leader Ed Miliband, now leads the Conservative Party by a 41% to 31% advantage in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, with the Liberal Democrats trailing at 14%.

Labour, which performed generally better than expected in the last election in May 2010 (which was supposed to have been a complete landslide for the Tories), hold 254 seats in the House of Commons to 304 seats for the Tories and 57 seats for the Lib Dems.  Although the next election is not expected until 2015, and the current Tory-Lib Dem coalition shows no signs of fracturing, despite some strains, Labour would be set to return to government.  That’s the best poll performance for Labour since well before the era of former prime minister Gordon Brown.

The support comes largely from the drop in support for the Lib Dems, who won 22% in the 2010 election and have watched support crumble as the junior partner of UK prime minister David Cameron’s government.  Just last week, Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg (pictured aboverecorded an apology for violating its 2010 pledge not to raise tuition fees — the Tory/Lib Dem coalition has voted to lift the cap on tuition fees to £9,000.

The move, which came in advance of this week’s annual Lib Dem conference, has dominated political discussion — Clegg’s video has even gone viral:

As we approach the expected 2015 election, if Lib Dem support remains subdued, the calls for a new leader will only become louder.  This week’s favorite is Vince Cable, who has been the business secretary in the coalition cabinet since 2010.  That’s perhaps ironic, given that Cable is just as pregnant with support for the central Tory program of budget cuts as Clegg.  Nonetheless, the Guardian/ICM poll showed that the Cable-led Lib Dems would increase their support to 19% from 14%.

Throughout the conference, Cable and Clegg have both emphasized that the Lib Dems will run in the next election as a separate party, not jointly with the Tories or in favor of any particular coalition.

All things considered, today’s polls are of limited utility nearly 30 months before the next election.  Furthermore, I still think — despite a strong performance by shadow chancellor Ed Balls and an increasingly sure footing for Ed Miliband — that the polls are a reflection less of Miliband’s stellar leadership than of the collapse of the Lib Dems under Clegg and the tepid reviews of Cameron’s Tories, given the austerity program that chancellor David Osborne is pushing forward with, even with the UK mired in a double-dip recession.  So there’s much time for the economy to turn around, and if so, Cameron and Clegg will both in better shape going into an election expected in 2015, and Miliband still seems like (and remains closer to) Neil Kinnock, the perennial loser of the 1980s and 1990s British politics than to Tony Blair, who delivered three consecutive Labour routs.

The left has savaged Clegg because he refused to apologize for the actual hike in tuition fees (and not just for breaking the pledge), but the more damning criticism is that by offering up such a mealy-mouthed apology and by refusing to stand up to the Tories on not just student fees, but the direction of the economy, Clegg sounds like just another politician.  Given that Clegg’s ascent into government came largely from his freshness and the appeal of a new approach to government (Cleggmania!), that is perhaps the most dangerous aspect for Clegg’s leadership.  Continue reading Labour leads, as Clegg and the Lib Dems struggle during UK convention season