Article in Sankei Shinbun, date August 3rd 2014, translated by Makiko Segawa, edited by Jake Adelstein and Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky in Tokyo, for Reporters Without Borders.Tokyo, November 4th, 2014
South Korea president Park Geun-hye was missing on the day that the passengers ship sank.
With whom was she meeting?（ 03/08/2014 Sankei）
According to the research institution “Gallup Korea”, the percentage of those supporting the president Park Geun-hye was 40 % on the last week of July. Only three and half months ago, the percentage of the authorities supporters was around 60%. Now, the supporting rate went hopelessly low. After this, the rumors surrounding the authorities and the president started to blast. In this situation, it is questioned where president Park Geun-hye was during the seven hours on the day the passengers ship sunk on April 16th. This ‘fact’ represents the chaotic political situation of the admistration. (Seoul, Tatsuya Kato)
The Chief Secretary Kim Ki choon, who is the closest assistant of the president, attended the Diet National Assembly Steering Committee on July 7th. Firstly, here is a reproduction of the Q&A between the questioners of the Leftist opposition leader Park Yong Sun, of the Assembly leaders of New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), and the Chief Secretary Kim.
Park: “Secretary Kim, did you mention that you submitted a written report to president Park at 10 AM on the day of the Sewol ferry accident?”
Park: “Where was the president at that moment?”
Kim: “I am not sure, but I have heard that she was giving a report at the National Security Office.”
Park: “In which case do you report to the president with the document?”
Kim: “There are many submitted written reports to the president.”
Park: “Many? Haven’t the Blue House recognized the urgent situation?”
Park: “If so, why did you inform her with the document?”
Kim: “I did not understand the precise situation.”
President Park has been criticized for being unable to communicate with many of her staff and bureaucrats. It is assumed that most reporting to the president are done under the form of documents, such as email or fax. The opposition parties, at the Q&A session, regarded this way of reporting as the most problematic factor that makes her close administration not being capable of considering the other parties’ opinion. The leader Park tried to find out the president’s whereabouts on April 16.
Park: “Was the president in her office?”
Kim: “I do not know where she was.”
Park; “Who knows if the head of secretary does not know?”
Kim: “It does not mean that the head of secretary grasps president’s action perfectly.”
Park: “I have heard that there was no schedule for the president in the daytime on that day. Wasn’t she in her office?”
Park: “Well, why don’t you know about that?”
Kim: “I often repot her by the document because her office is far.”
Park: “Your answers are vague. It is hard to accept them and the written reports to the president have a lot of problem.”
<< Here at this moment, Park, requested answers from Cho Yoon-Sun, a political advisor and top secretary, who is in charge of adjusting the liaison to the parliament>>
Park: Cho Yoon-Sun, a political advisor and top secretary, please step forward at the microphone. Even during the period you served as Minister of Women and Family, the majority of communications was made through written reports. Have you ever given a direct report to the president?
Choo: Yes I have.
Park: When was it?
Choo: When I needed to meet her in person.
Park: In which occasions?
Choo: I do not remember—in whatever cases they were.
Park: So, please submit the report under a writing form after checking what they were.
It could be said that these questions and answers represents the lack of physical access to the president and the deficient flow of information in the Blue House. It is unbelievable that the government is not able to explain where the president was and what she was doing on the day of the disastrous accident. How closed the Korean prime authorities are!
Discontent over such matters resulted in the circulation of rumors. A remarkable example is the reporters’ column in The Chosum Ilbo, the most dominant Korean daily newspaper. The column was named ‘the rumor surrounding the president’ and released on July 18th.
The column pointed out the following points, “it turned out that the president Park had been meeting with no one for seven hours since she got a written report around 10AM until she visited the disaster response headquarters.” The column also suggested a certain suspicion about the president. The column continued as follows.
“The reason why the head of secretary Kim told he was not sure of the president’s whereabouts could be to protect her. However, this was interpreted as the president’s schedule should be secret. People created the rumor that the president was meeting with ‘the secret source’.”
‘The secret source’ is an unclear expression. Possibly, it means ‘a person to meet confidentially’. It is easy to guess that the column writer recognizes the particular person. The column goes on.
“The rumor surrounding her appeared in the information magazine from the center of securities market and the weekly tabloid.”
The rumor was regarded as so vulgar that “people who have good sense think they might degrade themselves only by slightly talking about it.” What is it?
According to the related source from the center of securities market, that is something regarding the president’s relationship with man. The possible partner is assumed to be a former member of the Saenuri Party, the president’s political base, and he was a married man then. However, this source found it difficult to give more detail. Furthermore, he or she said, “the rumor had already disappeared from the internet and unable to be read.” It is a kind of mystery.
The column did not clearly describe that the rumor is about the president’s relationship with a man. The writer just mentioned “the rumor, which has been treated as something vulgar, is now an enormous topic of people’s conversation.” Probably, the story of ‘the president and her lover’ has been the topic of discussion all over Korea.
Although the column seemed to finish without referring to what exactly the rumor was, it suddenly converted into ‘the real name coverage’.
“The rumor became more dramatic just after it turned out that Mr. Chon yun-fe (정윤회), the possible man got a divorce.”
The woman who divorced with him was a daughter of the priest Che Te-min. Mr. Chon had served the president as the head of secretary for seven years before she was in a presidential position.
The column reported that Mr. Chon asked her wife on the divorce not to disclose what she had seen and heard during the married life instead of the condition that he did not demand the compensation and the distribution of property.
It is speculated by the source from the security market that ‘the secret source’ of the president Park is possibly Mr. Chon. However, the issue is complicated because there is a political source saying “it was not Mr. Chon but the priest Che, his father-in-law who was assumed to have a close relationship with the president.
The column on The Chosun Ilbo also described something enigmatic.
In the interview Mr. Chon answered to the media recently, “he shouted ‘investigate all about the government’s intervention in my personal rights and interest, the suspicion that they shadowed the president’s brother and the secret action by the president!’”
It is definitely hard to understand what specifically they are, but the column conveys that there might be a kind of threatening movement around the center of Korean authority.
The investigation on whether the rumor is true or false is pending, but the column analyzed the background that the ‘vulgar’ rumor surrounding the president originated.
“The general public is associating this situation with the president, apart from whether the rumor is true or false. In the past, the power supporting the president would be furious at the rumor. Those not supporting would ignore it as something not worth to talk. However, it seems that there is no such rational judgment today. The rumor would never have happened as long as the national politics has been gaining enough support from the people. The president is no longer trusted as all sorts of rumors are arising now.”
It seems that the Park government is steadily going to be ‘a lame duck’, useless.