‘Princess’ and ‘bossman’ in decadelong battle of wills

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 20, 2014 - 21:34
  • Updated : Jul 20, 2014 - 21:34
As an idealistic “princess” and a realistic “bossman,” President Park Geun-hye and Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung are an odd couple with a long-but-complicated relationship.

Their relationship has lasted a decade; however, the two were strange bedfellows from the start.

As suggested by Kim’s nickname “Moo-Dae,” short for Moo-sung Daejang, which means “boss Moo-sung,” the new Saenuri Party chairman is known for his drive and tendency to speak his mind.

Kim is also deemed a “Busan man,” which in Korean implies manliness because of Busan natives’ supposed strong will and tough masculinity.

Despite his hard-hitting image, Kim is a realist who values negotiating, and if necessary compromising, as an important tool in politics as did former President Kim Young-sam, under whose leadership Kim took his first steps into the political arena.

Park, on the other hand, is short-spoken, rarely giving in to pressure to bend rules and principles. Such characteristics coupled with her family history have led to the president being branded a “princess,” and birthed a string of nicknames ranging from “Princess Geun-hye” to “Notebook Princess” for her habit of making memos. 
President Park Geun-hye greets Rep. Kim Moo-sung, the newly elected leader of the Saenuri Party, before her luncheon meeting with the ruling party’s leadership at Cheong Wa Dae last week. (Yonhap)

Their contrasting characters have created an on-and-off, hot-and-cold relationship, the nature of which was clearly demonstrated by an episode in 2008.

At the time, Kim and a number of pro-Park figures were passed over in the Grand National Party’s candidate nominations for the general elections, due to the rivalry with the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction. Far from giving up, Kim responded by forming an alliance of independent pro-Park candidates, leading to the election of 12 such individuals.

After the results were out, Kim called out to Park, saying, “Shouldn’t we have a hug?” Park, however, met Kim’s enthusiastic gesture with a silent, icy glare. When Kim held out his arms in an attempt to ease the atmosphere, Park pushed him away.

Regardless of Park’s icy response, Kim’s stature among Park’s supporters has since grown.

Following the victory of the alliance, Kim was often referred to as the chief of the pro-Park faction, but Park herself had initially denied such relations, reportedly dealing a heavy blow to Kim’s pride.

When the two went against each other over the plans for Sejong City, Park clarified her standpoint on the relations: “There is no pro-Park (faction) chief.”

In the following year, he was hoisted into the floor leader’s seat aided by the then-mainstream pro-Lee faction, and his ties to Park appeared to have been severed for good. The developments led to Kim again being passed over in the nominations for the 2012 general elections, this time led by the pro-Park faction.

However, Kim was called on to lead Park’s election campaign in the same year, and he is considered one of the top contributors to her campaign.

Many have described the Kim-Park relationship as one of love-hate ― where the “love” appears to have mostly come from the “Busan boss.”

In spite of the cold shoulder Park and her followers gave Kim, he continues to flaunt his role in forming the faction. Kim is now widely considered a “non-Park,” but he continues to emphasize his connection to the faction despite pro-Park figures’ attempts to bring him down.

“(Do you remember) when I was referred to as the chief of the pro-Park (group) for a long time? I made the pro-Park faction,” Kim said in a radio interview in June. He has also said that he never considered himself a “non-Park” when running for party leadership.

The public views him as no longer affiliated with the faction. His disconnection from the faction has deepened to the point that his taking the Saenuri Party chairmanship sparked worries that Park would be rendered a lame duck prematurely.

Park, as “princess,” is said to treat Kim as one of her many “champions.”

She has called on him when his service was required, and set him aside when he was unwilling to serve in the role she set.

This time around, however, Kim is in an entirely different position. He is now the leader of the majority party, whose cooperation is critical for Park. Unlike his pro-Park predecessors, who have either been given or tapped for a Cabinet seat, Kim has little reason to go out of his way to accommodate the president.

By Choi He-suk (