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Profile: South Korea's Park Geun-hye

The 60-year-old conservative follows the footstep of her father, Park Chung-hee, by winning the presidency.
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2012 01:41
Park Geun-hye is the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, who ruled from 1961 to 1979 [Reuters]

Park Geun-hye of the ruling New Frontier Party has made history by becoming South Korea’s first female president, narrowly edging out her opponent, human-rights lawyer Moon Jae-in.

By winning the presidency, the 60-year old conservative follows the footstep of her father, late President Park Chung-hee, who seized power after a military coup in 1961.

Park Geun-hye's election will mean "a great deal" to South Korea's conservative and male-oriented society, said Hahm Chaibong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

"For us to have a female president I think would have a significant impact on the psyche of the people," Hahm told Al Jazeera. "It would be a great boost for the women of South Korea."   

An engineer by training, she was first elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in 1998, serving five terms as a representative.

In 2007, she lost out to Lee Myung-bak in the party's presidential primary. Lee went on to become president, but the country's leaders are restricted to a single five-year term.

Father assassinated

The elder Park was assassinated by his own spy chief in 1979. Five years earlier, his wife Yuk Young-soo's was also killed by a pro-North Korean agent who shot the first lady while aiming for the president.

"She's tried to signal to the older voters that she still got some of her father in her, and at the same time she's telling the youth vote that's she's going to be a completely different person."

- Brian Myers, Dongseo University

Following her mother's death, the younger Park served as her father's de-facto first lady.

Park Chung-hee won wide respect for transforming the poor war-ravaged nation into an economic juggernaut, but is also reviled in some quarters for his human rights abuses.

Still, many older South Koreans remember the almost two-decade rule with fondness and Park Geun-hye partly rode on the coattail of her father to launch her own political career.

Brian Myers of Dongseo University told Al Jazeera that the "senior vote" played a big role in the election given the country's rapidly ageing population.

At the same time, Park also had to appeal to younger voters who "really don't want to go back to that time," he said. During the campaign she was forced to apologise to the victims of her father's rule.

"She walked a tight rope," Myers said. "She's tried to signal to the older voters that she still got some of her father in her, and at the same time she's telling the youth vote that's she's going to be a completely different person."

Wealth gaps

With the country plagued by a growing wealth gap and high youth unemployment, Park has said she would work to improve welfare schemes and create jobs while committing herself to "economic democratisation".

On the eve of her election, she pledged to recreate her father's "Let's Live Well" miracle of rapid economic gains for a country that she said was labouring under heavy household debt, the high cost of raising children and poverty among old people..

Park also promised to safeguard the nation against external threats.

She cited North Korea's "provocations and nuclear threats" as well as territorial disputes with other countries, an apparent reference to the row with Japan over ownership of islands in the Sea of Japan.

"At this time of crisis, we need a prepared leader," she said, adding she would open a new era of peace and co-operation in northeast Asia.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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