Roller-coaster relations between outgoing and incoming presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye reentered the chilly phase upon Lee’s special pardon of his close associates carried out Tuesday despite Park’s strong opposition.
“President-elect Park Geun-hye expressed deep regret over how those convicted of corruption and irregularities were included in the special pardon,” said Park’s spokeswoman Cho Yun-sun.
Lee’s issuance of special pardons that included his key associates drew heavy denouncement from all political parties as an abuse of presidential power.
While Lee emphasized his decision was in line with “law and principle,” Park has expressed her disagreement since last week by lambasting the practice of issuing special pardons at the end of a president’s term.
Park’s strong opposition was seen as an attempt to distance herself with Lee’s unpopular administration, and marked an end to a brief truce between the two politicians.
“(Their confrontation) was highly expected, because by nature, for the incoming government, the outgoing government is not a subject of cooperation, but one to overcome,” politics professor Shin Yul of Myongji University said.
“The Park administration, once launched, will have scores of issues related to Lee to shake off, such as the controversial four-river restoration project or Lee’s alleged involvement in the investment company BBK scandal.”
Lee and Park, who had butted heads over Lee’s key policy directions over the past five years, had managed to create a brief reconciliatory mood upon Park’s election last December, showing a refreshing change from previous administration turnovers that had often resulted in open fissures between the switching leaders, at times leading to full-on investigations into the predecessor’s irregularity allegations.
“I will cooperate so that (the required budget for Park’s pledges) are all reflected,” Lee had told Park in their one-on-one meeting on Dec. 29.
Park responded by underscoring her respect for the incumbent government by urging a “humble” operation of her transition committee.
Park also remained mute over sensitive issues such as Lee’s vetoing of the controversial taxi bill, or the Board of Audit and Inspection’s report finding Lee’s flagship four-river restoration project faulty.
Now with the “official ending” of their truce, Park’s new administration is likely to become more aggressive in evaluating the former government’s failures, namely the four-rivers project criticized for being politically motivated at the risk of environmental damage, the observers said.
Lee’s alleged involvement with BBK, the investment firm accused of stock price manipulation, and the controversy of his government’s surveillance of civilians are among the issues likely to be revisited, they said.
Friction between the two began to simmer in 2006, when Lee and Park, the two major stakeholders of then-Grand National Party (precursor to the Saenuri Party), started to exchange barbs.
Lee, then mayor of Seoul, openly criticized policy decisions by the party leadership led by Park, who in turn warned she would not tolerate party members criticizing the party for personal advantage, apparently directing at Lee. Observers viewed it as a prelude to their competition over presidential candidacy.
The rivalry amplified in 2007, with the two butting heads over the primary rules for the presidential candidacy. The two openly called each other out over primary rule changes.
The two entered a short-lived break upon Lee’s nomination as the presidential candidate, with Park accepting her defeat.
But they soon collided head-on once again the next year over the party’s nomination for the April general elections that squeezed out many pro-Park members. Park famously said, “The people and I, too, have been deceived (by Lee).”
It prompted the former party chairwoman to recede from the spotlight for a while, except in August 2009 when Park accepted Lee’s request to visit Europe as a special envoy, inciting observation that the two may be reconciling.
But their relations once again took a turn for the worse a month later, upon the government’s move to revise the Sejong City relocation plan, which Park openly opposed.
In June 2010, Park made her first-ever appearance on the National Assembly podium for an open speech, calling on Lee to keep his promise to maintain the original relocation plan. Park came out swinging while Lee suffered a setback upon the parliamentary approval of the original plan.
As their attention shifted to winning the next presidential election in 2011, their enmity took a back seat with Park leading the party’s emergency committee that led to party name changes upon a sweeping party reform drive. Lee also remained silent when many of pro-Lee members were dropped from the April general elections nomination.
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org