[Editorial] Does Park Geun-hye even deserve to be President?

Posted on : 2016-10-26 16:24 KST Modified on : 2016-10-26 16:24 KST
President Park Geun-hye bows after making a public apology for the Choi Sun-sil scandal
President Park Geun-hye bows after making a public apology for the Choi Sun-sil scandal

Can this even be called a government? That’s the question on the lips of all South Koreans after news broke that Choi Sun-sil, a behind-the-scenes power broker, had proofread secret government documents, including South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s speeches and remarks during cabinet meetings. There have been numerous cases of corruption by the friends, relatives and confidantes of former presidents, but this is a bizarre scandal that is on a fundamentally different level.

During a parliamentary audit on Oct. 21, Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Won-jong dismissed allegations that Choi had been involved in composing Park’s speeches as “something that could not even have happened during the feudal age.” Lee was right. The Republic of Korea is being led by a government that would be a disgrace in a feudal society, let alone in a twenty-first century democracy.

On the afternoon of Oct. 25, Park made an apology to the South Korean public. But what she said was not so much an apology as a justification of her actions. “Choi is someone who helped me in a difficult time in the past, and I received her help on some of my speeches,” Park said, making one excuse after another.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Park is aware of the severity of the incident or that she is ashamed of her actions. Choi handled and tampered with not only Park’s speeches but also various government policy papers, top-secret diplomatic documents and even personnel files. Park was the one who attacked media interviews given by Special Inspector General Lee Seok-su as being “serious illegal acts threatening the constitutional order.” But absurdly enough, now that Park is facing grave allegations herself, she doesn’t seem to get what the big deal is.

Park’s public apology leaves no doubt about the fundamental cause of the current scandal. The person who has plunged the country into this awful predicament is none other than Park herself. In Park’s mind, there has never been a distinction between public and private. She had no awareness of the importance of protecting important state secrets or of the danger of such secrets being leaked. Thus, she feels neither guilt nor shame for her actions. The simple fact is that the current commander in chief of the Republic of Korea - the person who holds the levers of power - lacks the basic attitude required of public servants.

While Park claimed that Choi’s involvement in the affairs of state came to an end after the Blue House aide system was fully set up, this too has turned out to be false. According to testimony by Lee Sung-han, former secretary-general of the Mir Foundation, Choi received and reviewed a 30-cm-thick stack of presidential reports from the Blue House nearly every day until recently. Those reports were brought to Choi by Senior Private Secretary to the President Jung Ho-sung, Lee said.

This means that Choi‘s meddling in the government went beyond editing the text of speeches and extended across the entire spectrum of the affairs of state. Even worse, Lee said that Choi ordered Park around. In other words, there may be some validity to the speculation that the highest person in the country’s chain of command is not Park but Choi.

Because of this scandal, Park finds herself in a position where it is virtually impossible for her to perform her normal responsibilities. In a government in which a civilian without any kind of office peers over Park’s shoulder to micromanage public affairs, in a government where it has become routine for backroom power brokers to collude with the aides who control access to Park to game the government, Park only reiterated her nonsensical complaints about “groundless muckraking that sows more chaos in society.”

How on earth can such a president have the nerve to talk to the nation about national security or economic growth? Right now, South Koreans are asking the fundamental question of whether Park is even qualified to be president.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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