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South Korea: Presidential Nominee Stumbles Over Unresolved History

South Korea's ruling conservative party’s presidential nominee has suffered a major setback after she made an offensive remark about a notoriously unfair trial made under her father’s authoritarian rule.

Former President Park Chung-hee is one of the most polarizing figures in South Korean history. The country achieved tremendous wealth and rapid development under his rule, but his era is also remembered as the darkest time of Korean democracy.

After he declared a state of emergency, numerous political rivals, activists, journalists and irrelevant citizens were jailed, tortured and even sentenced to death without proper trials, often under the false pretense that they were spies dispatched from North Korea. Even for conservative people who feel nostalgic about the ‘the good old days’, it is often referred as the ‘scary time when people disappeared for no reason’.

A parody of Park Guen-Hye uploaded by Twitter user @fishnote. The image mocking Ms. Park as a princess holding a poisoned apple with her father's face on was originally a poster created by a South Korean Pop Artist, Lee Ha. Lee faced a light penalty for violating the election law for posting this image in several places.

A parody of Park Guen-Hye uploaded by Twitter user @fishnote. The image mocking Ms. Park as a princess holding a poisoned apple with her father's face on was originally a poster created by a South Korean Pop Artist, Lee Ha. Lee faced a light penalty for violating the election law for posting this image in several places.

This year, former President Park’s eldest daughter, Park Guen-hye has decided to run for presidency. With only few months left before the December presidential election, Park’s rating has plummeted.

Reasons vary from strong rivals such as Ahn Chul-soo, and a call for change [ko] in provinces that usually support the conservative party, but net users have pointed out that her vague attitude toward her father’s dictatorial rule is to blame.

Recently, when a radio talk show host asked [ko] Park whether she was willing to apologize for the InHyukDang Incident (or People's Revolutionary Party Incident), a trial that sentenced eight innocent citizens to death and executed them within 18 hours, Park avoided giving a direct answer and said ‘there are two verdicts’ and ‘the history will judge the case'.

The victims family released a statement [ko] and the law students on national scale filed a petition [ko] expressing concerns over the presidential candidate's ignorance and flawed historical understanding.

Park hurriedly said [ko] she would “clear/resolve all the historical issues” and held a press conference [ko] on September 24, 2012, apologizing for her father's rule. However, it was not convincing enough for voters to change their minds.

Before the press conference, Twitter user @newsrtist wrote [ko]:

박근혜씨가 내일 기자회견을 통해 ‘과거사를 죽 한번 정리'하신답니다. 지가 무슨 쪽집게 과외선생인가… 지금까지 한 짓이 있는데… 말 몇마디로 덮겠다고?!

Ms. Park said she will ‘go over all the historical issues’ in tomorrow's press conference. Is she one of those private tutors teaching a crash course on history? You really think you can put all the issues aside just by making some comments?

@thezoker commented [ko]:

과거사 문제로 사과 기자회견을 하겠다는 건 남은 대선 기간 동안 역사관 검증 공세에 “사과했잖아요?”라고 회피하며 빠져나갈 구멍을 만들기 위한 일종의 보험입니다. 오히려 검증자가 네거티브 공세하는 걸로 비춰지도록 하기 위한 꼼수죠.

The reason Ms. Park apologized throughout the press conference was to create a loophole that enables her to escape future attacks. It is like paying an insurance to prepare for time when people raise questions again on her historical perspective during the vetting process. By saying ‘but I apologized!’ she could make the one who is questioning look like (a bad guy who is) launching a negative campaign attack.

@mindgood accused Park of [ko] lacking sincerity in her apology.

과거사에 대해 눈시울을 붉히면서까지 사과했다면 하루 정도는 자숙하는 것이 기본 도리. 그럼에도 곧바로 희희낙락하면서 말춤을 춘 박근혜. 이러니 유족들이 진정성이 없다고 비판하는 것.

If you apologized for the past historical tragedy to a point your eyes turned red (because of tears), it is natural to maintain that apologetic tone and lay low through out that day. However, Park, right after the press conference, laughing and giggling, did the jockey dance [Psy's horse-riding dance]. That is why the victims’ families criticize her for lacking sincerity.

@dolmen85 rightly pointed out [ko] the dilemma Park is facing:

[...] 아빠의 시대를 부정하자니 그 시대의 좀비들이 울고, 아빠를 계속 두둔하자니 설자리가 없고. 눈물이 앞을 가린다.

When she denies her father's era, zombies of that era cry. And if she continues to defend her dad, there is no (political) ground left for her to stand. What a tearful situation.

@cds0741 warns of too much skepticism [ko] in responding to Park's apology:

박근혜의 사과문은 있는그대로 받아들이면 된다.진심인지 아닌지는 일주일도 안되 그녀의 행보와 말속에 담겨져 나올것이다.그동안 새누리당의 면면으로 볼때, 소나기는 피하고 보자는 심산일것이니 너무 앞서 폄하 하거나 비난 한다면,오히려 역공의 빌미 만 줄것이다

Why dont we just take Park's apology as it is. We will eventually learn whether it was true or not in less than a week by observing her words and actions. Based on what Saenuri [:the ruling conservative party] had done in the past, I can easily guess this stunt is to escape a bigger fire. But still, don't lambaste or denigrate her message in advance. It will only give them an excuse to attack us back.

@kktpaul wrote [ko] it is nearly impossible for people's minds to change:

박근혜의 사과는 표 얻기위한 사과이지 진정한 사과가 될수없다. 수십년에 걸쳐 뼛속까지 새겨진 역사관이 어떻게 하루만에 바뀔수 있단 말인가? 어제 김재원 새누리당 신임 대변인이 “박근혜는 아버지를 위해 정치한다”는 말이 진정한 박근혜의 속마음인 것이다.

Park's apology was made to appeal voters. It is not genuine. How can a person's historial view which formed over several decades and engraved to the individual personality to the core, can change in a day? Yesterday, Kim Jae-won, a new spokesperson for Saenuri party commented that “Ms. Park is ‘doing politics’ [direct translation] for her father”, which I believe is (a correct observation of) the mind set of Park.

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