[ED] More than verbal slip - The Korea Times
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[ED] More than verbal slip

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Yoon hit for having anachronistic views

Yoon Seok-youl, a leading presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), has invited severe criticism for making controversial remarks about former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan. During a meeting with party officials in the southeastern port city of Busan, Tuesday, Yoon said that Chun did a good job in politics although he seized power through a military coup and orchestrated the bloody suppression of the May 1980 pro-democracy movement in the southwestern city of Gwangju.

His remarks immediately inflamed public anger because they were seen as praising the dictator. That's why Yoon, a former prosecutor general, has come under attack not only from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), but also from his own party. On Thursday, he apologized for what he said, hours after expressing regret. However, his belated apology seems insufficient to assuage the mounting backlash because he was trying to justify his anachronistic comments with a lame excuse.

He clarified that it is a historical fact that the Chun regime suppressed liberal democracy and established a dictatorship. "What I really wanted to say … was that if I become the president of the country, I will place the right persons in the right positions in each field," he said. Yoon seemed to imply that the former general-turned-president recruited well-qualified experts, such as then senior presidential secretary for economic affairs Kim Jae-ik, to bring an economic boom to the nation.

However, it is wrong to use Chun's case as a reference to underscore his willingness to appoint experts in various fields to government positions, and delegate authority to them if he occupies the Blue House. Yoon knows this better than anyone else. He was a college student who gave a life sentence to President Chun during a mock trial to protest against his dictatorial rule. Chun served as president from 1980 to 1988 after taking power through a coup following the assassination of former President Park Chung-hee. In 1996, Chun was sentenced to death -- later commuted to life imprisonment -- after being convicted of treason and bribery. The next year he was set free on a presidential pardon.

Some people used to say that Chun managed to revive the Korean economy by recruiting economic technocrats. But we should not forget that he trampled on democracy and abused human rights to maintain his grip on power. He has never acknowledged his involvement in the bloody crackdown on the Gwangju Uprising in which more than 200 people were killed and 1,800 others wounded.

In this regard, Yoon's remarks about Chun were more than a slip of the tongue. They reflected his views and attitude toward democracy, showing his lack of historical awareness. So it is natural for anyone to question his qualifications for being president. It is not the first time that Yoon has made such controversial comments. He has already infuriated the public by supporting a longer workweek and suggesting a lifting of the shelf-life of foods for the poor.

If he makes such mistakes again and again, he will not be able to gain the public's trust. Thus he may stand a slim chance of winning the ongoing PPP primary race. And even if he does win, he may face a bumpy road ahead of the March 9 presidential election.




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