The empty days of im­peached pres­i­dent Park

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial Blue House has been some­thing of a fam­ily home for Park Geun-Hye, but the lux­ury res­i­dence has now be­come a place of soli­tary con­fine­ment for the im­peached, iso­lated leader. Park has twice called the Blue House home: First as the daugh­ter of late mil­i­tary strong­man Park Chung-Hee and then as pres­i­dent her­self - a cu­mu­la­tive pe­riod of 20 years.

Cur­rently pres­i­dent in noth­ing but name and with no of­fi­cial du­ties to per­form, Park faces a months-long empty sched­ule within the walls of the com­plex as she waits for the fi­nal act of her im­peach­ment drama to play out. The only reg­u­lar en­croach­ment from out­side is the deaf­en­ing chant­ing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­tes­tors who have taken to the streets of Seoul ev­ery Satur­day for the past two months to de­mand Park ei­ther re­sign or be re­moved.

En­snared by a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing an old friend, Park was im­peached by par­lia­ment just over a week ago - a move that stripped away all her sub­stan­tial pres­i­den­tial pow­ers and trans­ferred them to her prime min­is­ter. She is al­lowed to re­tain her ti­tle and stay at the Blue House while the Con­sti­tu­tional Court con­sid­ers whether to val­i­date the im­peach­ment - a process that could take up to six months.

Re­stricted move­ment

But her move­ments are re­stricted to the res­i­den­tial part of the 250,000-sq-m com­pound. Her of­fices, some 200 m from her liv­ing quar­ters, are off lim­its. A planned tri­lat­eral sum­mit with the lead­ers of China and Ja­pan that was sup­posed to be held this month in Tokyo has been in­def­i­nitely post­poned. Aides say Park spends her time rest­ing and pre­par­ing her im­peach­ment de­fence for the court, but oth­er­wise there are scant de­tails about her ac­tiv­i­ties.

“She must feel like the whole world has turned its back on her,” said Lee Jun-Han, a pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at In­cheon Univer­sity. “I don’t think she has the lux­ury of trav­el­ling out­side the Blue House, or even rest­ing in peace at home,” Lee said. Park’s fa­ther Park Chung-Hee ruled the coun­try with an iron fist from 1961-79 and his el­dest child en­joyed a pam­pered life, al­though in her mem­oirs she de­scribed her early days at the Blue House as “prison-like”. She never mar­ried and has no chil­dren, and crit­ics say her shel­tered up­bring­ing left Park aloof and out of touch.

‘Lonely life’

In a tele­vised apol­ogy she gave in early Novem­ber as the cor­rup­tion scan­dal snow­balled, Park spoke of her “lonely life” as pres­i­dent and how it had led her to place too much trust in her long-time con­fi­dante, Choi Soon-Sil. Park’s im­peach­ment fo­cused on charges that she col­luded with Choi in forc­ing a num­ber of South Korean con­glom­er­ates to do­nate tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to two du­bi­ous non-profit foun­da­tions that Choi con­trolled and al­legedly plun­dered.

Park ac­knowl­edged let­ting her guard down with Choi, who had helped her through “dif­fi­cult times” as a sin­gle fe­male pres­i­dent who had lost both her par­ents to as­sas­sins and was es­tranged from her sib­lings. In tes­ti­mony to an on­go­ing par­lia­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Choi scan­dal, Park’s aides ce­mented the im­age of her as a soli­tary fig­ure who liked eat­ing alone. One for­mer chief of staff who served Park for two years said he had of­ten gone an en­tire week with­out meet­ing her at all - an ex­pe­ri­ence echoed by other se­nior pol­icy ad­vi­sors.

“Park was al­most al­ways in her res­i­dence, whether on Sun­days or a week­day, un­less there were pub­lic events like a cabi­net meet­ing or a meet­ing with ad­vi­sors,” a for­mer pres­i­den­tial chef said in a re­cent in­ter­view. Park’s staffers now re­port to the prime min­is­ter - and act­ing pres­i­dent Hwang Kyo-Ahn, who is ex­pected to give the an­nual yearend na­tional pres­i­den­tial ad­dress.

For the Blue House press corps, Park’s blank days have left them with sim­i­larly blank note­books. “The num­ber of re­porters in the press­room has shrunk a lot - maybe only a third are show­ing up,” said the cor­re­spon­dent of one na­tional news­pa­per who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. “There are no more reg­u­lar brief­ings by the spokesman. He only comes to the press­room when there’s a par­tic­u­lar is­sue re­gard­ing the pres­i­dent,” the cor­re­spon­dent said.

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