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Park to make new apology over Sewol tragedy response

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Published : 2014-05-13 21:00
Updated : 2014-05-13 21:00

President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday she would soon issue another apology to the people amid worsening public sentiment over the government’s mishandling of the deadly ferry disaster.

During a Cabinet meeting, the president said she would discuss what to include in the statement and reform measures she plans to announce “soon.”

Park is widely expected to deliver a public address later this week, at the earliest, or possibly early next week.

“I hope to have intensive discussions today particularly on how to launch the national disaster safety system,” she said. “We have gathered many ideas so far, and a statement to the people is being planned based on what we have studied and reviewed,” she said in her one-minute speech released to the press.
President Park Geun-hye speaks during a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday. ( Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said later in the afternoon that Park spent nearly three hours discussing the key points to be included in the statement, adding that she wanted ministers to exchange their opinions over the Sewol tragedy. He did not say when she would deliver her address.

The president putting considerable effort into her statement comes amid growing criticism of Cheong Wa Dae for its lack of crisis management and its failure to better communicate with the public during the emergency.

Park has offered a series of apologies, with the first carried out in front of ministers at Cheong Wa Dae and the second taking place during a ceremony at a Buddhist temple in Seoul.

Despite the apologies, questions have been raised about whether her apologies were sincere and appropriate enough to soothe the pain and the anger of victims’ families as well as the public. Victims’ families have protested, saying that her message was reluctant and informal. Park’s approval rating fell even lower after her two apologies, demonstrating that the public was also disappointed with the apologies and the way she presented them.

The reason why Park’s repeated apologies have disappointed the public is that she has failed to show the leadership what many have expected from her, critics say.

“What people wanted from Park was her leadership. They have believed that Park, a woman with a dramatic political career, would lead them during a time of emergency,” political commentator Lee Jong-hoon said in an interview with YTN.

When the Grand National Party, predecessor of the Saenuri Party, was embroiled in a series of bribery scandals, Park, then the head of the party’s emergency committee, abandoned its head office and moved into the large tent set up on the street to show her determination to reform the corruption-tainted party. Her party succeeded in winning 121 seats in the general elections in 2004, proving her political gambit as the “election queen.”

The president has also failed to present herself as a leader who empathizes with a public in pain and who embraces the outraged public.

“None of her apologies were touching,” said Chung Kun-ki, a professor at Hongik University. “People have realized that their president remains dry-eyed and continues to have a firm attitude (even during this tragic accident),” he said.

Other critics say they have low expectations about her planned apology, saying it will not be enough to quickly rebuild trust with the public. But if she really wants her apology to work, she should stand before the public and reveal what actually went wrong with the accident first, they say.

“She needs to tell the public in detail what the fundamental problems with the accident were,” said Shin Yul, political professor at Myongji University, adding that the people are confused about what and who actually caused the accident.

“If she attempts to announce a package of measures to improve the national safety without touching on those issue, her apology will sound empty again.”

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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