President Park Geun-hye’s gift of official Blue House wristwatches to senior members of her party has caused an uproar after allegations that they were being traded away for political influence. Opposition lawmakers and angry netizens claim that the watches, a traditional presidential gift used by every President dating back to Roh Tae-woo (see graphic below), violate South Korean election law. Comments by Saenuri politicians about taking advantage of the coveted gifts, bought with public funding, have brought further condemnation.
Article from The Kyunghyang Shinmun:
Why Park Geun-hye Watches Are Presented to All Ruling Party Lawmakers
President Park Geun-hye gave out watches engraved in gold with her autograph and a pair of phoenixes to all of the ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers as gifts for the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls on January 30 this year.
Each legislator was presented with five sets of two watches, while heads of party chapters were reportedly offered one set of watches.
A Saenuri Party official said on January 19th, “My understanding is that the watches are presents for lawmakers to distribute to their respective constituencies on Lunar New Year.
It was originally reported that President Park offered one set of watches to every Saenuri Party legislator immediately after Chuseok, but after receiving requests for more, decided to hand out an additional five sets of watches to members of the National Assembly before the Lunar New year holiday.
An Assembly Member who has served two terms for a district located near Seoul said, “For lawmakers, the more we get, the better.”
The watches were manufactured by a domestic medium-sized company.
Concerned about a possible ostentatious display of the so-called Park Geun-hye watches against the Blue House’s wishes, Park’s administration placed only a small number of orders.
But as a flurry of requests for additional watches came to the Blue House from Saenuri Party lawmakers who saw them as ideal Lunar New Year’s gifts ahead of the upcoming local elections, the presidential office reportedly increased the size of its order.
The Blue House said, “The watch gift orders were taken care of by the general affairs secretary, but as far as I am aware, the political affairs secretary office set the maximum amount at five sets under the current budget.”
During a January 7th meeting with the Saenuri lawmakers and party officials, President Park offered wall clocks, with her autograph and a pair of phoenixes engraved on the clocks in gold.
Article from Yonhap News:
Controversy over “Park Geun-hye Watch” Intensifies into Accusation of Election Law Violation.
Main opposition party calls watches a breach of election law while the ruling party calls such claims a ‘political offensive’.
Watches, presented by President Park Geun-hye to ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers and heads of party chapters as a gift for Lunar New Year, have sparked accusations of possible election law violations. Local elections are slated for June 4th of this year.
Watches engraved with Park’s autograph were given to all Saenuri legislators and regional party branch heads with five sets of watches given to each politician. The accusation of impropriety emerged after Secretary General of the Saenuri Party Hong Moon-jong mentioned the need to take advantage of the watches during a breakfast meeting with local party chiefs on January 21st.
Secretary General Hong said, “we obtained the watches only after repeated appeals to the Blue House. Please, make a good use of the gifts in a way that helps with the operation of regional party branches.”
Hong continued, “If we don’t win in the June 4th local election, we will be reduced to nothing. Bear in mind that without an election victory, we will have a tough and grueling political life.” His remarks appeared to encourage electioneering by attendees.
After word of Hong’s remarks spread, Rep. Kim Hyun of the main opposition Democratic Party asked the National Election Committee (NEC) to determine whether “Park Geun-hye watch gifts” were a violation of election law.”
National Assembly Member Yang Seung-jo, one of the DP’s leading lawmakers, said in a meeting of the DP’s decision-making body, “This is a election violation case where watches, made with taxpayers’ money, turned into items for the ruling party’s election campaigns. The NEC should bring to light the intentions behind the manufacture and distribution of the watches.
Assembly Member Yang said, “President Park should remain impartial in the lead up to the June 4th local election, which is right after her return from the Davos Forum.”
In a statement, Vice Spokesman for the DP Kim Jeong-hyun described the watches as a clear breach of election law, calling for the authorities to prove who manufactured the watches, how many watches were made, and who will get the watches.
Mindful of the unfolding political dispute, on January 20th, prior to the DP’s request for a legal inquiry, the NEC sent guidelines to the Saenuri Party showing the scenarios where gifts of watches would be allowed under South Korean election laws.
Secretary General Hong vehemently countered the accusation of election law violation from the DP during a YTN radio program appearance, saying “The DP should not mount a political offensive about the president’s gifts.”
Saenuri Party Spokeswoman Min Hyun-joo said, “Watches are intended as gifts as long as it is not a violation of election law, and many people wanted the watches. We find the DP’s accusation to be regrettable.”
Comments from Daum:
President Roh was impeached over his remarks saying that he hoped lawmakers of his party would win in the election. The Grand National Party, a predecessor of the ruling Saenuri Party, initiated the impeachment proceedings against President Roh…
Mr. Hong just about admitted that the watches are for electioneering.
The Saenuri Party launches a blatant electioneering effort before the local elections using government funds. Flagrant electioneering. Is the NEC still alive? Can the NEC punish pro-Park Geun-hye backers?
I have never seen Park Geun-hye punished over election law violations. The NEC always ends up just making a plea to Park not to do so. The NEC is an election manipulator!
The following are Park Geun-hye’s accusations against President Roh: 1. President Roh harmed to the country with his partisan leadership; 2. We should put an end to an era where a president causes national instability; 3. (Describing President Roh as having pro-North Korean inclinations) Roh is urged to reveal his true colors (I don’t know whether Park is the daughter of a traitor or of a commie); 4. The Roh administration shakes the foundations of the nation; 5. Roh is a bad president.