Park's lead grows in South Korea vote
Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the South Korea’s former military ruler took a commanding lead in South Korea’s presidential election today, putting her on track to become the country’s first woman head of state.
A win for the 60-year old conservative would see her return to the presidential palace where she served as her father’s first lady in the 1970s, after Park’s mother was assassinated by a North Korean-backed gunman.
With more than 70 per cent of the votes counted, Park led with 51.6 per cent to 48 per cent for her left-wing challenger, human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in.
Her raucous, jubilant supporters braved sub-zero temperatures to chant her name and wave South Korean flags outside her house.
Park will take office for a mandatory single, five-year term in February and will face an immediate challenge from a hostile North Korea and have to deal with an economy in which annual growth rates have fallen to about 2 per cent from an average of 5.5 per cent in the past 50 years.
She is unmarried and has no children, saying that her life will be devoted to her country.
The legacy of her father, Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea for 18 years and transformed the country from the ruins of the 1950-53 Korean War into an industrial powerhouse still divides the country.
For many conservatives, he is South Korea’s greatest president and the election of his daughter would vindicate his rule. His opponents dub him a “dictator” who trampled on human rights and stifled dissent.
Park has said she would negotiate with Kim Jong-un, the youthful leader of North Korea who recently celebrated a year in office, but wants the South’s isolated and impoverished neighbour to give up its nuclear weapons programme as a precondition for aid, something Pyongyang has refused to do.
The two Koreas remain technically at war after a armistice ended the Korean conflict and Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the North’s current leader, ordered several assassination attempts on Park’s father, one of which resulted in her mother being shot to death in 1974.
Park herself met Kim Jong-un’s father, the late leader Kim Jong-il, and declared he was “comfortable to talk to” and he seemed to be someone “who would keep his word”.
The North successfully launched a long-range rocket last week in what critics said was a test of technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile and has recently stepped up its attacks on Park, describing her as holding a “grudge” and seeking “confrontation”.