Who’s sorry now? Apparently Park Geun-hye is. In what was anticipated to be Obama-on-race or Romney-on-religion moment, Park Geun-hye held a press conference to issue a statement regarding her father’s legacy. In the key part of the statement, Park said:
“I know well that my father’s desperate desire and agony for improving the people’s lives, while knowing that he would later face criticism and denunciation, were sincere. But the fact that the ends cannot justify the means in politics has been and will be a democratic value. Therefore, I believe that May 16, yushin and the People’s Revolutionary Party incident caused damage to our constitutional values, and delayed the advancement of Korean politics. I once again offer my sincere apology to those who were hurt and injured through this.”
Obviously, this is a significant change from her previous stance — as recently as last July, Park said May 16 was an “unavoidable, best possible choice.” Park also said, as the president, she would form a committee of national unification to address the reparation for the injuries caused by the dictatorship era.
Other presidential candidates welcomed her speech. Ahn Cheol-soo said “Park did what was very difficult, but had to be done,” and also said he believed she was sincere in her statements. Moon Jae-in said he welcomed Park’s apologies, and hoped that it would serve as a starting point for national reconciliation.
Park’s statement — particularly about the part about how “ends cannot justify the means” — has put Korea’s conservatives in an awkward place, since when it comes to Park Chung-hee’s legacy, they have been arguing the exact opposite: that is, Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship was justified because he protected South Korea from North Korea and elevated South Korea from poverty. The night before the press conference, NFP’s spokesman Kim Jae-won apparently told reporters that Park Geun-hye entered into politics to restore her father’s honor, and her issuance of the statement is akin to Peter’s denial of Jesus. Kim resigned since then. (Kim was the NFP spokesman for exactly one day. His predecessor recently resigned after threatening Ahn Cheol-soo.)
More direct to the point was Cho Gab-je, a well-known conservative pundit and biographer of Park Chung-hee, who wrote that Park Geun-hye’s statement was an “anti-historical apology that spat on her father and her country.” Cho also wrote: “Ms. Park’s apology is not sincere; it is a political show for votes. She committed filial defilement and national disloyalty [불효, 불충] by denying wholesale Korea’s modern history and spitting on her father’s grave. Just ten days ago, her stance was to defend her father and leave the judgment to history. How does a person’s stance change 180-degrees in this short period of time? This is evidence that she cast away her conscience for political purposes.”