Monday, May 19, 2014

South Korea: President Park Geun-hye Blames Everyone But Herself, Dismantles Coast Guard

South Korea President Park Geun-hye took an unconventional step Monday (May 19) to address bitter criticism in the wake of the ferry boat disaster aboard the "Sewol," than killed more than 300: the dismantling of the South Korean Coast Guard.

President Park, accepting “ultimate responsibility” in a nationally televised address, revealed a controversial and seemingly bizarre plan for dismantling the Coast Guard for failing to act swiftly after the "Sewol" capsized more than a month ago off the southwestern coast.

Anti-government critics attacked her plan to transfer disaster relief at sea to the national police agency and then to a super-agency, not yet formed, as a defense against mounting attacks on her and her conservative Saenuri Party.  

COMMENT:  It is my assessment that President Park's government could potentially collapse under the weight of her indecisive action during the sinking of the "Sewol," keeping in mind that PM Chung Hong-won announced his resignation on Sunday (April 27) over the ineffective government response to the ferry disaster, in which it was first announced on April 16, that all passengers had been rescued.

The one little detail that many of us forget is that President Park, being responsible for everything that occurs in the executive branch of government "she owns."

When her government apparently had failed to rescue the majority of passengers from the "Sewol," President Park herself, rather than going to the gym each day, should have been "on-scene," directing the rescue effort herself, knowing that in South Korean culture subordinates look to the President for leadership.

If the South Korean Coast Guard erred technically or operational when the "Sewol" capsized, after all, she is culpable in all that transpires in her Cabinet's performance.

What I find so interesting is that President Park was going to the gym each day to work out as if nothing had happened. Not good for any head of state,

There are political factors at "play" that many observers may have missed. On June 4, all governors of provinces and mayors of large independent cities, including Seoul, go to the polls.

At the moment, after only months in office, largely because of her handling of the sinking of the "Sewol," and the loss of predominantly upwards of 300 young lives who will never take another breath, President Park's popularity has declined to 38%.

The tragedy has ignited a national debate over issues not only of basic safety and security, but of collusion between political figures and tycoons anxious to elevate their bottom lines.

A broad cross-section of South Koreans, regardless of political affiliation, agree with the criticism.

Divers have found 286 bodies from among 476 people on the vessel. Only 172 people on board, including most of the crew, were rescued before it slipped beneath the choppy waves.

Officials from the company that owned the Sewol are suspected of having paid off inspectors. The company president and three staff members are under arrest. Their trials are expected to be just as important as those of the captain, chief engineer, and two mates who face charges of negligent homicide. Eleven other crew members are also accused of negligence. 

The "Sewol" for years routinely carried three times the authorized load of vehicles and cargo containers from the west coast port of Incheon, near Seoul, down the coast to the scenic island of Jeju, its destination on its final voyage.

A spokesman for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a powerful organization that claims more than 600,000 members, pointed out that Park had nothing to say about the recent easing of rules and regulations for business and industry. Deregulation, he said, was responsible for the disaster.