I’m at a loss for words — police say embattled former President Roh Moo-hyun died this morning after falling from a hillside as he was hiking this morning.
Police are currently investigating whether it was an accident or a suicide. I’m not going to jump to conclusions, even though some of the news reports I’m hearing seem to be.
UPDATE: Former Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff Moon Jae-in said Roh left behind a simple note for his family, indicating a suicide.
Yonhap is reporting the same, that a close aid — my guess, probably Moon — told them he left behind a note, and this would suggest the former president had killed himself. The aide added that he’d heard Roh was exhausted from being investigated by prosecutors.
UPDATE: Let me issue a brief eulogy.
No, I didn’t like the man, either as a president or an ex-president, and as for the trouble he found himself in recently, well, he had mostly himself to blame — if you spend five years trumpeting your moral superiority over the opposition and then try to sink their presidential candidate with an independent probe into a financial scam right before the election, you’d better be sure you don’t have any ethical skeletons in your own closet.
That said, I do believe the man was treated unfairly in some quarters of the media and political establishment while he was president. Granted, there were plenty of legitimate reasons — many of them policy-related — to give the guy a hard time, but one got the strong suspicion that the attacks on the President Roh were not necessarily based on what he did or how he did it, but rather on who he was. He was from outside the establishment (granted, he seems to have learned eventually), a self-taught lawyer and populist. And because of this, he was never really given a chance.
Although then again, even if he’d been afforded one, I doubt he’d have done anything with it other than piss it away, like he did with his post-impeachment wave of support.
For all of Roh’s faults, though, he must be given credit for this — he was the first Korean president who actually acted like the head of state of a democracy and not an elected dictator. He practiced a presidency with limits, and for this, he deserves the nation’s gratitude. And for all the fear mongering, the Korean economy grew pretty healthily under Roh, he managed to get the FTA signed, and the Korea-US alliance didn’t completely collapse under his watch. He wasn’t a complete disaster, and I hope people remember that.
At OneFreeKorea, Joshua has his own thoughts on Roh’s death.
UPDATE: Roh’s suicide note has been released:
The note Roh left reads, “Many people have been suffering too much because of me. The sufferings that will come are also too enormous. I cannot do anything due to bad heath. I cannot read nor write. Life and death are just one piece of the nature, aren’t they?”
Roh also said: “Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anyone. It’s all destiny. Please cremate my body and leave just a small tombstone near my home.”
His aides found the note saved in a file in his computer. The note indicates his suicide was premeditated.
Roh apparently asked his bodyguard for a smoke right before he jumped.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have declared an end to their investigation of Roh…which one suspects might have been the point of the suicide.
I don’t want to predict any fallout — it’s too early to tell, of course. Nevertheless, you already have debate about the manner in which the prosecutors investigated Roh, and more worrying, the ever-classy Democratic Party saying in a statement — read with tears, reportedly — that the people and history knew who and what brought about the tragic end of a former president. Party officials also complained about the prosecutors, who they accused of treating Roh without the proper respect due a former president and leaking information about the investigation. With the Democratic Labor Party and New Progressive Party also castigating the prosecutors’ investigation, this could get ugly, especially since LMB and Co. have shown only slightly less PR finesse than the Khmer Rouge.
My guess, though, is that among the names the Democratic Party won’t bring up is Nam Sang-guk.