near the National Assembly. Park left without making herself available for Q & A. (by Lee Jeong-woo
By Seong Yeon-cheol and Song Chae Kyung-hwa, staff reporters
Park Geun-hye apologized on Sept. 24 for misdeeds during the rule of her father, former president Park Chung-hee.
The New Frontier Party (NFP) presidential candidate said constitutional values were “compromised” by the 1961 coup that brought her father to power, his Yushin Constitution administrative system in the 1970s, and persecution of the People’s Revolution Party, and that she believed they had the effect of “delaying the Republic of Korea’s political development.”
Speaking at a press conference at the NFP offices in Seoul’s Yeouido, near the National Assembly, Park declared, “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,” Park said.
The remarks came two weeks after a furor erupted over her seemingly dismissive comments on Sept. 10 about executions in connection with the PRP anti-government activists. At the time, she responded to questions about the executions by saying, “We’ve already had two court rulings on that.”
Park prefaced her Sept. 24 statement with the words, “I am here today not as my father’s daughter, but as the New Frontier Party’s candidate for the 18th presidential election.” In so doing, she sent a clear message in response to continued criticisms during the NFP primaries, and even after her nomination, about her inability to escape the shadow of her father.
A rather different Park was seen at the press conference, offering her own historical assessment - albeit only a partial one - of her father’s political legacy.
“That the ends cannot justify the means in politics is, I believe, a democratic value that was true in the past as it should be true in the future,” she said.
“In that sense, I feel that constitutional values were compromised by things like May 16 [the 1961 military coup], Yushin, and the PRP incident,” Park continued.
Observers called this something of a step forward from past occasions when she courted controversy by saying, “history will be the judge” of her father’s legacy.
A first-term lawmaker from the Yeongnam region said, “In the past, she made no judgments, just a dozen or so apologies, because she believed such a historical assessment would be the beginning of a new conflict.”
Park also expressed that it was difficult for a daughter to judge her own father.
“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.
Many observers said this remark recalled the words of the late former president Roh Moo-hyun, who responded to criticisms of his father-in-law’s record as a left wing activist by asking, “Should I desert the wife I love because of a father-in-law whose face I’ve never seen?” Recently, many close to Park said she would likely take a hit with voters in their fifties or older by appearing in public repudiating her father in the hopes of being elected president.
The NFP generally responded favorably to the press conference. A number of observers raised questions about what had taken Park so long, renewing questions about her sincerity. Some voiced suspicions that she may have been trying to reverse a recent slump in her support ratings owing to previous remarks on historical matters, as well as revelations of improprieties by associates, including former lawmakers Hong Sa-duk and Song Young-sun.
“She may have had no choice, but it took far too long,” said one prominent Seoul-area lawmaker. “There’s no authenticity there.”
Conservative journalist Cho Gap-je said on the matter, “Only ten days before, she defended her father and said that ‘history will be the judge of his legacy’. I don’t understand how in such a brief time she can change her mind so drastically. I think it’s a political show to attract votes.”
Questions were also raised about her failure to give an explicit reason for her change.
“She could have done it before, but she waited too long,” said a prominent Yeongnam lawmaker. “I imagine the people are going to question her sincerity.”
The same lawmaker went on to say, “She should have talked about why she said the things she did before. Aren’t [people] going to wonder about all the stuff she‘s said up until now?”
Park read a prepared statement and left without taking reporters’ questions. When pressed by some reporters, she merely talked three times about the “importance of practice in the days ahead.”
An adviser to Park said, “I suspect things will quiet down a bit now that she’s come out like this.”
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