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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 16)

All News 07:01 December 16, 2020

Opposition's apology
PPP should go all-out to regain public trust

Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), apologized Tuesday for the wrongdoings committed by imprisoned former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, both former heads of the party. He held his party's predecessors accountable for failing to prevent the two from getting involved in massive corruption cases.

The apology is welcome although it comes belatedly ― four years after the National Assembly voted to impeach then President Park in December 2016. She was ousted from power in March 2017 when the Constitutional Court unanimously upheld the impeachment.

As Kim promised, the conservative PPP should make strenuous efforts to transform itself into a new party through reform and innovation. For this, the party needs to set a new course to restore its damaged credibility and regain public support.

It is disappointing, however, that Kim has not presented any concrete plan for the reform of his party. As interim leader, he has yet to display significant leadership. In the beginning, his plan for the apology met a strong backlash from right-wing members who are still loyal to the convicted former heads of state. He has failed to draw support from the pro-Park and pro-Lee factions.

In this sense, Kim's act of apology fell short of a broader party consensus. That is why many people are calling his move into question. Critics point out that his apology for the former presidents' crimes is a political ploy to rally voters behind the conservative party ahead of mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan set for next April.

The party suffered setbacks in the May 2017 presidential election, the June 2018 local election, and the April 2020 general election because ex-Presidents Park and Lee were members of the PPP's predecessor party. Park is serving a 20-year prison term after she was convicted of corruption and cronyism. Lee is also in jail after being handed a 17-year sentence for taking bribes.

It is shameful to see the two serving time for their misdeeds. It is all the more so, given that most other former presidents have ended up in prison or befell more tragic fates. Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, went into exile overseas after the bloody April 19 Revolution against his authoritarian rule in 1960. Former President Park Chung-hee, a military dictator, was assassinated in 1979 and his successors, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were both convicted of treason because they took power through a military coup after Park was murdered.

Former President Park Geun-hye, a daughter of Park Chung-hee, left an indelible mark in the modern history of Korea. She was the first incumbent president to be impeached. Her predecessor, Lee, also undermined Korea's efforts for clean politics by accepting bribes and flagrantly lying to the people.

Now, PPP leader Kim should do everything he can to back up his apology with meaningful action. His apology should not be used only as an excuse to shirk the party's responsibility for the misdeeds of the two most recently disgraced presidents. It remains to be seen whether he and his party can act in good faith to reflect on their shameful past and open a new chapter.

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