By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea’s president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol invited disgraced former President Park Geun-hye to attend his inauguration next month, when the two met on Tuesday for first time since Yoon led a corruption probe five years ago that landed Park in prison.
Yoon, a former prosecutor-general and the new standard-bearer of Park’s conservative party, is keen to heal lingering wounds in his party after barely winning last month’s bitterly fought presidential election.
He faces historically low approval ratings as he prepares to take office and his People Power Party will soon face another test at the polls in local elections on June 1, just weeks after his May 10 inauguration.
Yoon visited Park, 70, at her home in the southeastern city of Daegu, where she has lived since a pardon last December after serving nearly five years of a 20-year sentence on corruption charges.
“As we have past history … I told her I felt sorry about that,” Yoon told reporters after the meeting. They also talked about her health and daily life, he said.
Kwon Young-se, an official on Yoon’s transition team who had also worked for Park, said in a briefing that Yoon invited the former president to his inauguration during the meeting, and Park promised to try to come despite her poor health.
Yoon, whose advisers include former Park aides, said he would adopt some of her policies so that “she can regain her honour”, Kwon said.
Yoo Yeong-ha, a Park lawyer who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, said Park, who as president promoted strong ties with Washington, stressed that the economy could not develop without a strong foundation in diplomacy and security, and urged Yoon to “build trust” with many countries.
The imprisonment of Park, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, had divided a country in which old Cold War rivalries between right and left still hold sway in politics, while creating a rift within the conservative camp.
Yoon won the March 9 election by a record narrow margin of 0.7%, and a poll released on Monday by Realmeter showed that only 50.4% of respondents said Yoon would carry out his presidential duties well, while 45.3% expected a poor performance. Newly elected presidents in South Korea have typically enjoyed a honeymoon period with much higher approval ratings.
Yoon shot to fame after investigating Park, who was convicted of colluding with a friend to solicit millions of dollars from large corporations, which were then transferred to her friend’s family and several non-profit groups.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Edmund Klamann)