President Park Geun-hye
Conservative Saenuri [New Frontier] Party candidate Park Geun-hye made history 19 December 2012 by winning South Korea's presidential election, becoming the country's first female president-elect after defeating liberal rival Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party by several percentage points. Park won 51.6 percent of the vote compared with 48 percent for Moon Jae-in. Turnout 76 percent voter turnout was considered high, surpassing the two previous presidential elections despite sub-freezing temperatures across the country.
Park Geun-hye impresses all who meet her and her complete devotion to her country is unquestionable. For Park, who is 60 and is scheduled to take office February 25, it will actually be the second time residing in the presidential Blue House. She lived there in the 1970's, serving as the country's acting first lady after her mother was assassinated by a North Korea-backed gunman, and has never married. Her father, President Park Chung-hee, had two assassination attempts made on him. The first, in August 1974, took the life of Park Geun-hye's mother, Yook Young-soo; the second, in October 1979, his own intelligence chief killed President Park himself. As former President Park Chung-hee's daughter, she earns votes from those who are nostalgic for the double digit economic growth of President Park's rule (1961-1979) and loses votes from those who remember the injustices of her father's authoritarian reign.
Former GNP Chair Park Geun-hye was born February 2, 1952 and raised in the Blue House from the age of 9. Park's mother made every effort to offer Park a normal life, sending her to public schools and allowing her to ride the tram like other children. According to her official bio, she spent her early years, "learning traditional arts and living a quiet life observing great events." Her mother is credited with ensuring Park had the best education. After hearing a distinguished American visitor to the Blue House say that engineering was the key to Korea's future, Park decided to major in engineering. When she graduated from prestigious Sogang University with a degree in electrical engineering.
After graduating from Catholic Sogang University in 1974, Park went to France for further study. In August of 1974, her mother was killed in a North Korean assassination plot by a Japanese-Korean on then President Park Chung-hee. Park Geun-hye returned home after her mother's death and as the president's eldest daughter, Park served as acting first lady from 1974 to 1979.
On October 26, 1979, her father was assassinated by his KCIA chief. When Park Geun-hye learned of her father's death, her first reaction was apparently to ask, "Is the DMZ all right?" Some believe Park Chung-hee was grooming his eldest daughter to be president, although there is no evidence to support this claim. During the ensuing Chun Doo-hwan regime, Park's personal life was difficult as she was shadowed by the KCIA and many of her confidants were sent to hard-time prisons and even tortured.
From late 1979 until late 1996, Park lived a largely solitary life. She dealt with the shock of both her parents' deaths and spent much of her time dealing with her own grief. As the family head, Park also had a number of serious problems. Her brother suffered serious drug addiction and was arrested on several occasions. Her sister had a difficult divorce during this time. Park Geun-hye worked mostly at home although she did hold the chairperson position at Daegu's Youngnam University during this period. In 1992, she wrote in her diary, "If I were to choose, I might choose death over a life like this again."
She spent a considerable amount of her time with Yukyoung Foundation and the Saemaeum Hospital, charitable foundations established by her father. She also held a controversial position as head of the Jangsu Scholarhip Foundation that was founded with Busan Ilbo newspaper stock "given" -- possibly under pressure -- to the foundation by Busan Ilbo's founder. Since she started work with Girl Scouts of Korea in 1974 and she became involved in various welfare projects during the 70s and 80s, Park has always put a strong emphasis on charitable work.
In 1996 Park joined the New Korea Party (the Grand National Party predecessor party) and became an Assemblywoman representing Daegu through by-elections in 1998. She said she returned to public view to "save the country." In speeches Park says that she was motivated by the economic crisis of 1997 and wanted to "reform the party system and the overall political environment."
She successfully led the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) from March 2004 until June 2006 to a surprisingly good result in the National Assembly elections in April 2004 and multiple victories in subsequent local and by-elections.
Park Geun-hye was attacked 20 May 2006 in Seoul by an assailant with a box-cutter; she suffered deep cuts to her face. Park suffered an eleven-centimeter-long (about four inches) cut to her face, from ear to jaw, one-to-three centimeters deep, and required 60 stitches. Her well-publicized first words after the attack were, "I am all right. Don't overreact," which helped sweep the GNP to victory across the nation. The attack appears to have helped Park project a new image among the Korean public as a tough but calm leader. Her popularity peaked after, despite being attacked during a speech and hospitalized, she heroically left her hospital bed and went directly to campaign. Her inspiring performance led the GNP to a sweeping victory in the May 31 local elections.
She stepped down as the party chairwoman in July 2006 to prepare her 2007 presidential bid. As a presidential candidate, Park's clean image and devotion to her country won her a solid base of conservative support. In January 2007, Park put her campaign into high gear with veiled and not-so-veiled attacks at front-runner Lee Myung-bak. She made a series of high profile speeches laying out her policy positions and she even changed her trademark hairstyle. Her previous hairstyle was identical to that of her mother's. Her current style is much more modern.
While being the authoritarian president's daughter was a net plus as the nation's economic successes in the 1960s and 1970s are remembered fondly, being a woman was potentially a weak point. Korean voters think that it takes a man to stand up to Kim Jong-il's antics. With Park, gender is not a big hindrance to her candidacy since she was able to display her qualifications to lead - determination and dedication - by immediately resuming her public activities after being slashed in the face in May 2006, which led Park to an approval rating of 45%. Park is thought of as Park Chung-hee's daughter first and as a woman second.
In 1975 eight students who struggled against Park's rule were sentenced to death on trumped up charges of violating the National Security Law and treason. The eight were executed less than 24 hours after the trial. In 2007, a court revisited the cases and declared the eight activists innocent. Park Geun-hye was asked to comment on the case. She replied that the case was only being dealt with now for political reasons and she had already apologized for any injustices committed when she was in the Blue House.
Park was for a time a front-runner to be the GNP's nominee in the December 2007 presidential race. Her main challenger within the party was Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak. But by February 2007 she was running 20-30 points behind Lee. After emerging as the GNP candidate on 20 August 2007, Lee stated that he would embrace Park Geun-hye's supporters. However, the formation of his election preparation team revealed his preference for loyalty over mending party factions. Lee's failure to incorporate Park and her people into his administration had garnered much criticism among the Korean people. Park was deeply mistrustful of President Lee, seeing tricks and machinations in every proposal. But the factional divides are personality- and not policy-based and therefore had not significantly impeded the President's legislative agenda. Park Geun-hye's popularity had been growing throughout the country in large part due to the failures of the Lee Myung-bak Administration.
On 07 May 2009 President Lee and GNP Chair Park Hee-tae met to discuss the party's by-election failure. The two publicly attributed the GNP's loss to a persistent factional divide within the party between the President's supporters and those of Representative Park Geun-hye. In the first gesture to heal this rift since Lee narrowly defeated Park in the party's presidential primary race nearly two years ago, the President and Park Hee-tae announced their support for floor leader candidate Kim Moo-sung, a long-time Park Geun-hye supporter, in the intra-party election scheduled to take place on May 21. The animosity between Lee and Park was so deep that a reconciliation was not possible.
Park Geun-hye remained a very popular figure in her native Gyeongsang province and among conservatives, and some say she was arguably the most potentially powerful politician in Korea. She chose to stay quiet and criticize President Lee only on very specific policy-related issues. A clear front-runner to succeed Lee Myung-bak as president, Park walked a fine line between supporting President Lee and remaining loyal to her faction members, many of whom were denied nomination for the National Assembly elections in 2008. Possible strong challengers from the left include former President Roh's chief of staff, lawyer Moon Jae-in. He won a legislative seat in the polling in Busan, the country's second largest city.
On 20 August 2012 South Korea's governing New Frontier (Saenuri) Party selected Park Gyeun-hye as its candidate for president. Park began the general election campaign as the conservative front-runner. Park earned the nickname “Queen of Elections” for leading election comebacks for the conservatives. Her latest accomplishment in that realm was a widely unexpected victory for the party in elections for the national assembly in April 2012.
A liberal political novice looked set to prove to be her most formidable opponent in the December national election. Many left of center said their best chance to defeat Park lay with a popular outsider and political novice. He is a high-profile university professor who became very wealthy as a software entrepreneur. Ahn Cheol-soo had not joined any political party, and if Ahn ran as an independent that would split the left-wing vote further easing Park's path to victory. For a man who has never held public office, there were questions remaining on where Ahn stands on many domestic and foreign issues. But on 3 November he resigned the presidential candidacy, making it a two way race. All polls before he stepped down showed the ruling party easily winning the presidency if two liberals were in competition for the top elected post.
South Korea's main opposition party, theDemocratic United Party, picked former human rights lawyer and former presidential aide Moon Jae-in on 16 September 2012. In his acceptance speech, Moon vowed to push for summit talks and greater economic cooperation with North Korea. The liberal party candidate served as chief of staff for the late president Roh Moo-hyun, who held summit talks with the north in 2007.
South Korean presidential candidate Park Geun-hye unveiled her foreign policy on 05 December 2012 ahead of the December presidential election. The candidate of the governing Saenuri Party suggested that she will take a tough stance on historical issues, but will also pursue dialogues with Japan, China and North Korea. Park said diplomatic friction is intensifying in East Asia over historical and territorial issues. She said she will never allow other countries to violate South Korea's sovereignty, and will deal sternly with historical issues. But Park also said she will consult with the governments and civic communities of Japan and China to overcome existing frictions and bring about reconciliation and cooperation. She said such efforts are needed to help what she calls a correct understanding of history take root in the region. Park stressed that her country will not tolerate North Korea's provocations, such as nuclear and missile development. But she suggested that the 2 Koreas can open liaison offices in each other's capitals, and she can hold summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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