‘Memogate’ costs President credibility

December 3, 2014
Although South Korean President Park Geun-hye has an approval rating of 46 percent, almost 90 percent of South Koreans disapprove of the National Assembly as a whole.

Critics say that the power struggle is a symptom of President Park’s self-righteous, yet secretive governing style.

By Kang Seung-woo

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is facing yet another challenge that may adversely affect, if not consume, her remaining three years in office.

In the unfolding “memogate” scandal, her aides, former and incumbent, are waging a war of disclosures, hurting Park’s credibility as a leader.

This internal feud on full display comes on the heels of a protracted traumatic period after the April 16 sinking of the ferry Sewol, which put the nation on hold for the six months that followed.

It is not an overstatement to say that unless the President manages to quell the incident promptly, she may become — nearly three months shy of her second anniversary in office — a lame duck.

“The ongoing incident will definitely hit her approval rating hard,” said Hangil Research director Hong Hyeong-sik. “In addition, it is likely to cause a problem for President Park for the remainder of her presidency.

“In the future, the public will doubt any decision made by the presidential office, wondering whether the President made it or a close aide did.”

He also said the public will be less likely to trust the government than before, which will push her into a lame-duck phase.

Hongik University professor Chung Goon-gi said, “The people will not be able to expect great things from the Park administration.”

He added that the government is being discredited by the alleged power struggle and has given the opposition party the means for political attacks.

Rep. Park Jie-won of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said Wednesday that President Park is on her way to lame-duck status faster than any president in history.

“Before the end of the second year, a power struggle took place and internal documents from the presidential office were leaked, both of which are a breach of national order,” the lawmaker said in a party meeting.

Even the ruling Saenuri Party is worried about the potential for a lame-duck presidency.

“Unclear government operations and a lack of communication can bring about a secret authority group,” Rep. Choung Byoung-gug told party members.

“If so, the government will lose public confidence and authority, which will lead to the President becoming a lame duck.”

Critics say that the power struggle is a symptom of President Park’s self-righteous, yet secretive governing style.

“All responsibility for the current situation falls on President Park’s style of governance, only depending on her close aides instead of using the official chain of command,” Chung said.

“When Park was a chairwoman of the ruling party, party members communicated with Park through her close aides. With Park taking office now, her close aides are empowered.”

Hong said, “The current problem took place because Park tries to do everything herself or with a few people around her.”

Park changing her governing style is the only solution to prevent such a scandal from repeating, political pundits said, although that seems to be unlikely.

“President Park already said that she will punish those who are found committing inappropriate acts regardless of their positions, and that is the answer,” Hong said. ”However, it is doubtful she will act on her words.”

The latest trouble started with reports Friday that Jeong Yun-hoe, a former aide to President Park, meddled in state affairs and high-level government appointments.

Jeong has proclaimed his innocence through media interviews on a near-daily basis, but Cho Eung-chon, a former secretary to the President for civil service discipline, countered in another interview, saying that there were many at Cheong Wa Dae who did not undergo the official confirmation process.

Cho is regarded as an acquaintance of the President’s younger brother, Park Ji-man.