The new South Korean president is so eager to distance himself from his disgraced, jailed predecessor that he plans to partially abandon one of the job’s major perks: the mountainside presidential palace, the Blue House, from which Park Geun-hye conducted her imperial presidency.
Addressing the nation after taking the oath of office on Wednesday, Moon vowed to eventually move out of the palace that dominates downtown Seoul, where every modern South Korean president has lived and worked since the end of World War II. It is also closely associated with Park, who grew up there as the daughter of a dictator.
Moon instead plans to commute to an office in the nearby streets of Gwanghwamun, near the square where millions took part in peaceful protests for months before Park was removed from office and arrested in March on corruption charges. “After preparations are finished, I will step out of the Blue House and open the era of the Gwanghwamun president,” Moon said in his speech, without offering a specific timeline.
“I will be a president willing to communicate with people at any time. The president will directly brief the media on important issues. I will stop by the market after leaving work so I can talk candidly with citizens. I will sometimes hold large debate events at Gwanghwamun Square.”
Moon’s plans to abandon precedent, and, partially, the Blue House, are part of an attempt to be a more down-to-earth president. In other words, the opposite of what critics saw in Park’s presidency.
Park was described by many as aloof and autocratic, and was notorious for refusing to take questions during the few news conferences she allowed. So his new approach was clear when Moon personally introduced his nominees for prime minster, spy chief and presidential chief of staff at a news conference on Wednesday at the Blue House and his nominees answered questions.
Park’s life was strongly linked to the huge palace. She lived in the Blue House twice, first as the daughter of military strongman Park Chung-hee, who moved into the palace in 1963, two years after he staged a coup and took control of the country. Park left the Blue House following the assassination of her father in 1979. But, following a meteoric political career, she returned after winning the presidency in December 2012, thanks to overwhelming support from older voters who remembered her father as a hero who rescued the nation from poverty, despite his brutal record of civilian oppression.
When massive protests against her mounted starting late last year, she retreated to the Blue House, rarely appearing in public.
Moon expects to find a much smaller presidential residence near Gwanghwamun. But he won’t entirely abandon the Blue House. Officials from his presidential camp have told reporters that Moon will continue to use the Blue House’s underground rooms for important national security meetings. He will also continue to use the Blue House’s helicopter pad and also the Yeongbingwan Hall to greet foreign guests, they said.