South Korea Elects First Female President
by Steve Herman December 19, 2012
Conservative Saenuri [New Frontier] Party candidate Park Geun-hye has made history 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.
Interacting briefly with several media representatives on a large open-air stage in downtown Seoul, the five-term lawmaker and daughter of a former dictator vowed to fulfill every promise she made during the campaign.
By keeping everyone's support and trust in mind, Park said she 'will definitely open an era of peoples' happiness in which everyone can enjoy some simple pleasures and their dreams can come true.'
After being handed a bouquet of flowers, Park left the stage to the cheers of her supporters. She gave no formal victory speech.
At a subdued Democratic United Party headquarters in another part of the capital, Moon Jae-in conceded. Apologizing to supporters, he called the defeat his failure, 'not a failure of the people who hoped for new politics,' and then offered his congratulations to the new president-elect.
Turnout 76 percent voter turnout was considered high, surpassing the two previous presidential elections despite sub-freezing temperatures across the country.
Voters, bundled in their thickest winter clothing and stomping their feet to stay warm, waited in long lines to get into polling stations.
After the results were known, a jubilant Park supporter, 56-year-old company employee Choi Duk-soon, said she is elated by the historic victory.
Choi says she is 'thrilled to have the country's first female president who can heal conflicts due to regional and class differences.'
The incumbent, President Lee Myung-bak of the Saenuri Party, was limited to a single five-year term. He was elected in 2007, narrowly defeating Park in a party primary race.
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.
The ever-present threat from Pyonyang will be only one of the daunting challenges she faces; Park is faced with widening income disparity amid a slowing economy, soaring welfare costs for an aging, and a rekindling territorial dispute with Japan.
During the campaign, Moon, who served as chief of staff to former president Roh Moo-hyun, said he would want to hold a summit meeting with North Korea in the first year of his presidency. Park declared no such meeting could take place unless Pyongyang apologizes for military provocation it has launched in recent years.
Park's father led a 1961 coup and stayed in power until he was assassinated in 1979 by the chief of his intelligence agency.
Park's campaign said the first item on her schedule the morning after the election would be to pay her respects at the national cemetery where her parents are buried.
Youmi Kim in VOA's Seoul bureau contributed to this report.
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