No surprise, indeed! The news that the leading party Saenuri will field Park Guen hye, daughter of dictator Park Chung Hee, as its candidate for the presidency should bring a chorus of yawns.
Saenuri replaced the Grand National Party in name for recent parliamentary elections, and squeeked by a narrow margin to remain the dominant party. The current president Lee Myung bak squandered the GNP’s political capital during his term in office which will end in March 2013.
US money and media support have long gone into a campaign to bring Park election success against the opposition which is more amenable to returning to a sort of ‘Sunshine Policy’ towards North Korea.
What the US and western media neglect to document is the revisionist history of the reign of dictator Park Chung from when he overthrow John Chung Myon in early 1960s to his death at the hands of his generals in the late 1970s.
A doorstop of a book by journalist Shim Jae Hoon ‘Park Chung Hee: an enigma’ [now available in English] is the latest venture in cleaning up Park’s image.
During his dictatorship, South Korea modernised rapidly by healthy infusions of Japanese and US capital. Yet, his rule was brutal and unforgiving. He did try to subvert the US constitution by suborning Congress; he even kidnapped his rival Kim Dae Jung from Japan with the intention of killing him; only the CIA and the US government at the last minute saved Kim’s life. His unfeeling suppression of his people’s right under the infamous Yushin constitution puts him squarely into the dictator’s mould.
He was a loyal ally of America until president Nixon withdrew US troops in Korea, to fight America’s dirty, ‘undeclared’ war in Vietnam. This, along what became known as ‘Koreagate’ –the bribery scandal in the corridors of the US Capitol–certainly spurred the generals assassination of the man.
Yet, time is a healer of sorts. And Park Chung Hee’s reputation has improved by hindsight. He is thought of as a great Korean patriot who did much to transform South Korea into a modern, industrial nation, with the same sort of weights–negative of course?–that tip the evaluation of Kim Il Sung of North Korea.
And, his daughter, skilful as she might be in the corridors of power, has undoubtedly benefited from this historical and sentimental revision of her father legacy.
Even if Park Guen hye becomes South Korea’s first woman president, her grasp on power is slim, and with a sliver of a majority in parliament, she will have to compromise with the opposition. Which translates into cracks in the US encirclement and marginalisation of North Korea.