Scan­dal unites ri­val Koreas in fury at South Korea’s leader

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: In only a few days, South Korea’s big­gest scan­dal in years has done what six decades of diplo­macy and blood­shed couldn’t. It has united the ri­val Koreas, at least in one area: In­dig­na­tion against South Korea’s leader. North Korea’s pro­pa­ganda mavens have never been shy in call­ing South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye an in­com­pe­tent, power-hun­gry clone of her late dic­ta­tor fa­ther, Park Chunghee - and that’s when they’re pulling their punches.

In­con­ceiv­able a week ago, many South Kore­ans now seem to be reach­ing Py­ongyang lev­els of fury over an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Park al­lowed a long­time con­fi­dante with no of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment role to ma­nip­u­late her ad­min­is­tra­tion from the shad­ows.

The North’s fond­ness for vi­cious threats is gen­er­ally miss­ing in the South, but the anger over the scan­dal - some­times par­ti­san, mostly spon­ta­neous on the part of many South Kore­ans, but more vi­o­lent and some­what canned in the North, where care­fully cul­ti­vated out­rage is a state com­mod­ity - of­ten seems to be in lock­step.

For in­stance, in word­ing that North Korea would be right at home with, Ahn Cheol-soo, a law­maker from a small South Korean op­po­si­tion party and a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, re­cently said of Park: “You no longer have the au­thor­ity to de­stroy the con­sti­tu­tion. You no longer have the au­thor­ity to stomp on the pride of our peo­ple.”

The take in the North

Here’s how a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment looked when North Korea’s main news­pa­per re­cently at­tacked Park: “It’s de­plorable that the South’s pol­i­tics have be­come the joke of the world and its econ­omy and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods are left in shreds.” To be clear, the ex­pres­sions in South Korea, even at their sharpest, are still a long way from the odi­ous lin­guis­tic swamp of vi­o­lence and sex­ism that char­ac­ter­izes much of North Korea’s pro­pa­ganda. The North, for in­stance, has called Park a “dirty pros­ti­tute who licks her master’s groin,” an “ag­ing witch,” a “fe­male dog” and an “Amer­i­can par­rot.” Py­ongyang has also re­peat­edly called for her death.

But there has been an uptick in both rage and sex­ism in the South, es­pe­cially on­line, where Park and her con­fi­dante, Choi Soon-sil, have been called “crazy bitch,” “chicken head,” a slur meant to at­tack their in­tel­li­gence, and “stupid Gang­nam ajumma,” a term of­ten used to in­sult mid­dle-aged women liv­ing in af­flu­ent south­ern Seoul. Peo­ple have also de­clared that South Korea will never again vote for a fe­male pres­i­dent or trust a woman’s lead­er­ship. It is not just hap­pen­ing in ob­scure cor­ners of South Korea’s so­cial me­dia or the web, never the cream of pub­lic dis­course.

“Park Geun-hye threw away her au­thor­ity as (the per­son) ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble (for gov­ern­ing the state) to a com­mon street woman of un­known roots,” Jae-myung Lee, the op­po­si­tion mayor of Seong­nam, told more than 10,000 peo­ple tak­ing part in a re­cent anti-Park rally, re­fer­ring to Choi. “Park has lost her au­thor­ity as pres­i­dent and has shown that she doesn’t have the ba­sic qual­i­ties to gov­ern a coun­try.”

That Park, who has 15 months to go in her sin­gle five-year term, should go has long been a main­stay of North Korean rhetoric. But sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments are also emerg­ing in South Korean me­dia. “If we had to pick one per­son who made the coun­try into the shat­tered mess that it is now, it’s none other than Pres­i­dent Park,” the South’s Kyunghyang Shin­mun news­pa­per said in an editorial on Satur­day, call­ing for Park’s res­ig­na­tion. “The cit­i­zens no longer want Park to gov­ern state af­fairs ... She lost the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to per­suade and guide the rul­ing and op­po­si­tion par­ties, the par­lia­ment and the peo­ple. Her moral au­thor­ity as the head of state has fallen to the ground ... Con­tin­u­ing this state for an­other year and three months will make ev­ery­one mis­er­able.”

Neg­a­tive sto­ries

North Korea’s state me­dia have at times seemed over­whelmed with the amount of neg­a­tive sto­ries, both in­ter­na­tional and South Korean, about Park, and have of­ten just rounded up the cov­er­age, with some in­sult­ing com­ment added. Six days af­ter Park first ac­knowl­edged that she had sent Choi, the daugh­ter of a shad­owy re­li­gious fig­ure who emerged as Park’s men­tor in the 1970s, drafts of her speeches for edit­ing, North Korea’s main news­pa­per, Rodong Sin­mun, re­leased a lengthy, painstak­ing sum­mary of the saga, re­plete with sex­ist, vi­o­lent in­sults.

The news­pa­per de­scribed Park and Choi as “two women who have lost their minds.” It also broke down re­ports that Choi in­flu­enced im­por­tant gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing Park’s move to shut down the last ma­jor sym­bol of in­ter-Korean co­op­er­a­tion, a jointly run fac­tory park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

“This shows to the world that Park Ge­un­hye is not merely a first-class dog con­trolled by a large mon­ster that is the United States, but also dou­bly and triply a pup­pet ma­nip­u­lated by strings pulled by one ‘Gang­nam’ woman,” the North Korean news­pa­per said, re­fer­ring to the Seoul neigh­bor­hood where Choi re­port­edly built a for­tune on real es­tate in­vest­ments.

Ob­servers of North Korean pro­pa­ganda have won­dered about the length of time it took the news­pa­per, the mouth­piece of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party, to weigh in on the scan­dal - nearly a week. It’s al­most as if the pa­per’s pro­pa­ganda ex­perts, af­ter fir­ing at much smaller tar­gets for so long, couldn’t quite be­lieve the huge gift they’d been given. Py­ongyang has more re­cently stepped things up.

For in­stance, the North’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency pub­lished a state­ment by a For­eign Min­istry unit that called the scan­dal a “hideous power-backed scan­dal un­prece­dented in his­tory.” It pre­dicted that a “mass strug­gle” of en­raged South Kore­ans will leave Park at a cross­roads where she is forced to choose be­tween quit­ting her pres­i­dency on her own or fac­ing im­peach­ment. With tens of thou­sands of South Korean pro­test­ers call­ing for Park’s ouster over the weekend and big­ger crowds ex­pected in com­ing days, Py­ongyang’s breath­less, over-the-top pro­pa­ganda might not be so far off the mark.


SEOUL: A girl takes a photo of the pres­i­den­tial Blue House.

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