President Park Geun-hye marks the first anniversary of her election victory this week amid concerns about potential instability in North Korea, a standoff with striking rail workers and persisting allegations of state tampering in last year's election race.
This Thursday is one year after Park won the dead-heat contest against her opposition rival, Moon Jae-in, a victory that made her South Korea's first-ever female president and the first child of a former president, Park Chung-hee, to assume the highest office.
Aides said Park plans to host a lunch for some 600 officials of her ruling Saenuri Party on Thursday and hold dinner with top party leaders later in the day. But they are more year-end events than celebrations of the election victory, the officials said.
In general, there are few signs of a celebratory mood at Cheong Wa Dae.
Officials said that's because Park hates to project an arrogant image with overblown celebrations. That's the attitude she has taken all along when she led her party to a number of election victories that earned her the nickname, "Queen of Elections," they said.
"It's too quiet. Though it's because we have a lot of work to do, it is also because we can't be celebratory when the president isn't," a presidential official said. "Another reason for such a quiet mood is because of the grave situation in North Korea and the prolonged rail strike."
Tensions and threats emanating from North Korea have haunted Park throughout her first year in office. Two weeks before she was sworn in on Feb. 25, the communist nation carried out its third nuclear test. Starting in early March, Pyongyang unleashed near-daily threats of war against South Korea and the United States.
The North then shut down the joint industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong in early April. The factory park reopened months later, briefly warming relations between the two sides. But their ties plunged again after Pyongyang unilaterally called off planned reunions for separated families.
Last week, the North's young leader, Kim Jong-un, stunned the world again with the surprise execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek for treason. Jang had long been considered Pyongyang's No. 2 official as he was believed to have looked after Kim when he took over as leader after the death of his father and former leader Kim Jong-il two years ago.
Jang's execution prompted fears of instability in the North's leadership, though some analysts have said the execution demonstrates that Kim has consolidated power and is firmly in charge. Concerns have also grown over in what direction the unpredictable leader will take the nuclear-armed nation.
Park has called the North's situation "grave," warning that the North could attempt "reckless provocations" in an attempt to divert domestic attention from the execution. She also ordered the government to make preparations for all possible contingencies and the military to beef up its vigilance.
Also weighing Park's mind down is the prolonged strike by rail workers.
Thousands of unionized workers at the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) walked off their jobs last week in protest against a government decision to set up a KORAIL subsidiary to run some high-speed train services. The union suspects the move would ultimately lead to its privatization.
Park has expressed frustrations earlier this week, saying the walkout came despite repeated assurances from the government that it has no intention to privatize the planned subsidiary. She reiterated that the subsidiary's establishment has nothing to do with privatization.
On top of all these problems is the alleged state meddling in last year's election.
The scandal, which first broke before the election, is still dogging Park, with some opposition lawmakers denouncing last year's vote as an illegitimate election and even demanding that she voluntarily step down and the nation hold a by-election to select a new leader.
The scandal centers on allegations that state agencies, including the main spy agency National Intelligence Service (NIS), attempted to influence the tight presidential race with online political postings in favor of Park. She has categorically denied any link to the alleged wrongdoing.
Presidential officials acknowledge that progress has also been slow in the Park administration's main policy goals such as "economic democratization," expanded welfare programs and other reforms she promised during the election campaign. But they said they believe such policies will ultimately yield results.
"Her style is to work steadily and her determination to realize 'people's happiness' is firm and her commitment to election pledges remains unchanged," an official said. "After all, I believe we can produce results by her final year in office, and she will be remembered as a successful president." (Yonhap News)