Politics laid bare

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 July, 2004, 12:00am

A middle-aged woman lies on a bed, while a man sits next to her. Both are semi-undressed, and the implication is that they appear to be resting after having had sex. That was the image portrayed in a picture which was posted on the presidential office's official website early this week.

Amazingly, the woman in the photo was Park Geun-hye, former chairwoman of the opposition Grand National Party and a strong contender for the next presidential election. Or at least it was her head, on someone else's body.

The man is unknown, but a small caption describes him as Chosun and Dong-A, South Korea's two most-influential conservative newspapers that are highly critical of President Roh Moo-hyun's government.

The picture, of course, was fake, posted by an unknown internet user, apparently to make fun of Ms Park and the two major dailies that have joined hands to stand against Mr Roh's plan to relocate the country's administrative capital from Seoul to Gongju, in central South Korea.

The satirical picture was perhaps designed to show that the opposition party and anti-government newspapers are conspiring to try to thwart Mr Roh's policies and projects. Certainly, many people believe that such politically motivated collusion exists.

But the real problem was how the presidential office handled the matter. Instead of removing the photo, the office highlighted it.

As a result, more people logged on to view Ms Park, the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee who ruled from 1961 to 1979 with an iron fist until he was assassinated by his own intelligence agency chief.

Park was an authoritarian ruler, but during his term, South Korea was transformed from a poor, war-torn agrarian country to an industrial powerhouse. His legacy has helped his daughter rise to be a star in recent years, and she could be a serious contender in the 2007 presidential election.

The GNP was infuriated by the presidential office's deeds. One presidential press secretary apologised, and the people in charge of the website received a warning, but the opposition demanded that they be dismissed, and that Mr Roh himself apologise.

It may have been a simple mistake by some officials. But many people believe that it was really a political plot designed to hurt the opposition camp and anti-government newspapers.

What the country needs is solidarity, not further division. And the presidential office's highlighting of the picture was definitely an act designed to enhance national divisions rather than bridge the gap.