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S.Korea’s Park Apologizes to People Hurt by Father’s Rule

Park Geun Hye
South Korea ruling party presidential nominee Park Geun Hye is leading in the polls for the Dec. 19 election to succeed Lee Myung Bak and become the country’s first female leader. Source: Yonhap News via Bloomberg

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- South Korea ruling party presidential nominee Park Geun Hye apologized to the victims of her father Park Chung Hee’s 18-year dictatorship, saying it delayed the country’s democratic development.

“I understand that the end does not justify the means, and this should be a lasting value for democracy,” Park said today at a press conference in Seoul. “I apologize to the families of victims hurt from the dictatorial rule in this regard. I will try my very best to heal those scars.”

Park, 60, is leading in the polls for the Dec. 19 election to succeed Lee Myung Bak and become the country’s first female leader. She must overcome a challenge from independent software mogul Ahn Cheol Soo as well as the main opposition candidate to persuade voters she is best suited to cope with growing income disparity and rising youth unemployment.

“She obviously made this apology to put an end to the controversy, but the sincerity of this ‘sorry’ will be questioned,” said Kim Meen Geon, a political science professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “This will be held as the biggest weak point for Park throughout the election campaign, especially because it’s being made as her popularity in polls is declining.”

Park had 37.5 percent support in a Sept. 17-21 Realmeter poll, down 3.5 percentage points from a week earlier, and compared with 27.2 percent for Ahn, the founder of Ahnlab Inc., and 22.6 percent for Moon Jae In, the main opposition candidate. The survey of 3,750 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

Military Coup

Park Chung Hee took power in a military coup in 1961 and ruled until 1979, forging growth in automaking, steel and shipping by backing the family-run multinational businesses called chaebols. His never-married, eldest daughter became acting first lady at 22 after her mother was killed in a bungled North Korean attempt to assassinate her father.

The late dictator altered the constitution to increase his power and used torture, censorship and public executions to crack down on dissidents and political opponents.

Moon, a lawmaker and human rights lawyer, was jailed in 1975 for taking part in demonstrations against the Park regime. He’s campaigning under the slogan “People First,” calling for an expanded welfare state and stronger regulation against chaebols.

Ahn, also a critic of chaebols, has called for a “new economic model” and innovation that merges welfare and growth. In his latest book, he advocates banning conglomerates’ cross-shareholding and limiting their investments in subsidiaries.

Park has listed her top priorities as overcoming the wealth gap, creating jobs and strengthening the welfare system.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cynthia Kim in Seoul at ckim170@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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