Park clashes with Lee over pardon plans

Choi He-suk in Seoul/The Korea Herald
Asia News Network

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye and the Lee Myung-bak administration have clashed head-on over Lee's plans to issue special pardons.

Yesterday, the transition team stepped up its opposition to the pardon plans citing Park's disapproval.

"The president-elect is negative about (issuing) pardons at the end of the administration," Cho Yoon-sun, a spokesperson for Park, said yesterday. She added that the president-elect was showing "particularly strong concerns" for pardoning those imprisoned for corruption.

"(Park) is of the opinion that going ahead with the pardon is abusing the powers of the president and going against the will of the public."

The comment comes two days after chief spokesman Yoon Chang-joong implied that Park was opposed to the pardon plans.

"Pardoning people linked to corruption will anger the public. (I) hope such pardons are not issued," Yoon said on Saturday. He added that he had "conferred sufficiently" with Park on the issue.

President Lee is set to issue special pardons to about 50 individuals as early as Tuesday. As soon as the plans first surfaced earlier this month, the opposition parties have strongly opposed them and called on Park to personally prevent pardons being issued "without principle."

For its part, Cheong Wa Dae has since said that the president's relatives and close associates, and those involved in corruption that took place after the launch of the current administration will not be among those pardoned in an effort to put to rest speculations that the president's associates will be pardoned.

In addition to conveying uncharacteristically direct comments from Park, the transition committee has also revealed the minutes of transition team subcommittee meetings.

The minutes include the president-elect's comments on her election pledges, as well as issues such as the Lee Myung-bak administration's four major rivers restoration project, which Park had refrained from commenting directly on saying that they were the "domain of the incumbent government."

The extensive records show Park saying that the four-rivers project needs to be "investigated objectively." She is also on record as saying "reviving the middle-class through economic democratisation is an important objective."

While the transition team has said that revealing the records was "a decisive move to show the president-elect's designs," the developments may be part of a ploy to appease public sentiment.

The accusations of being "anti-communication" have been flung at Park soon after she clinched victory in the December 19 election.

She had maintained near absolute secrecy in appointing aides and members of the transition committee, to the point that in some cases even the appointees were made aware minutes before official announcements.

Her choice of personnel has also come under fire from early on, sometimes for the concerned individual's background and sometimes for being chosen without a proper vetting process.

The process of revealing Park's government reorganisation plans announced on January 16 has also been criticised, with the main opposition Democratic United Party claiming that announcing the plans without consulting the parties was "disregarding the National Assembly."

Fuelled in part by the lack of communication and personnel appointments that failed to strike a chord with public opinion, Park's approval rating has fallen far below those recorded by previous president-elects in recent history.

In Gallup Korea's poll for the January 14 to 18 period, 55 per cent of the 1,559 respondents said that Park was doing a good job, while 19 per cent said that she was not.

The reason most commonly chosen for negatively assessing Park's activities was lack of communication at 23 per cent, while 16 per cent picked poor personnel management.

Realmeter survey placed her approval rating at 63.6 per cent for the same period.

In comparison, the approval ratings for former presidents Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and President Lee Myung-bak between election and inauguration stood at over 80 per cent.