Ex-dictator’s wife calls husband ‘father of democracy’

By Kim Arin
  • Published : Jan 2, 2019 - 17:53
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2019 - 20:03

Lee Soon-ja hailed her husband and former South Korea dictator Chun Doo-hwan as the “father of democracy” during an interview Tuesday with a right-wing online publication, drawing criticism from political parties on both sides of the aisle.

Chun ordered an armed crackdown on a pro-democracy demonstration in May 1980, known as the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, resulting in an untold number of civilian deaths, the official toll of which remains disputed but was at least in the hundreds. The democracy movement was initiated as a reaction against the Army general-turned-president’s military leadership and his implementation of martial law in the previous year. 

Chun received a death sentence in 1996 for his part in military suppression of the movement, but was pardoned the next year by President Kim Young-sam.

Former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan and his wife, Lee Soon-ja, visit a funeral home in Seoul on Oct. 23 to pay tribute to his predecessor Choi Kyu-hah, who died the previous day at the age of 88. Choi, who was appointed president after Park Chung-hee`s assassination in 1979, ruled for just 10 months until Chun took power following a military coup in 1980. (Yonhap)

On Wednesday the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s spokesperson Lee Jae-jung issued an official comment calling out the “rash statement” as an “insult to the four-syllabled word of democracy,” arguing that “the criminals and their sympathizers are rubbing salt into the victims’ wounds with words.”

Lee also urged the main opposition Liberty Korea Party to join in on the conversation and clarify its stance, as the conservative party remained silent on the issue.

Minor parties weighed in on the debate, expressing strong disapproval in unison.

Minor conservative opposition Bareunmirae Party’s deputy spokesperson Roh Young-kwan castigated Lee’s “audacity,” who he said “appears without a hint of regret ... after 30 years since the act of brutality against the people,” and pressed that she “face trial (for defamation).”

The Party for Democracy and Peace’s spokesperson Kim Jung-hyun commented that the interview was worthy of “worldwide coverage,” and asked for the Liberty Korea Party’s cooperation in the “enactment of the special act on the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement (which passed the National Assembly in February 2018).”

The left-leaning Justice Party’s spokesperson Jung Ho-jin voiced condemnation, demanding that “Chun ask for forgiveness (from victims of his junta) and faithfully attend the trial.”

Chun is to be tried on Jan. 7 for “defamation of victims of the Gwangju Democratization Movement” at Gwangju District Court. 

Concerning her husband’s trial, Lee denounced President Moon Jae-in’s office for “persecuting a former president who contributed to the country’s advance for something that happened 40 years ago,” while “welcoming (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un (whose predecessors) killed our people.”

By Kim Arin (