South Korea elects first woman president
Park Geun-hye, whose father ruled South Korea with an iron fist for 18 years, became the country’s first woman president yesterday, narrowly beating her opponent in one of the most divisive elections for years.
With more than 70 per cent of the votes counted, Ms Park led with 51.6 per cent, while her only rival, Moon Jae-in, was on 48 per cent, according to the national election commission.
Television pictures showed Ms Park being mobbed by flag-waving supporters outside her home in the Gangnam district of Seoul as it became clear she had fended off a late surge by Mr Moon. She later thanked her staff before making a brief appearance in front of crowds in central Seoul. Her victory, she said, was a sign the country’s economy would recover.
Mr Moon, a left-wing former human rights lawyer from the Democratic United party, conceded defeat and congratulated Ms Park on her victory.
Ms Park (60) had to overcome resentment towards her privileged background and accusations that her Saenuri party was too close to the powerful chaebol family-run conglomerates that dominate the South Korean economy. While her sex was a frequent talking point among pundits, it did not appear to have much influenced voters.
The election has captivated South Koreans, who turned out to vote in huge numbers despite below freezing conditions. The country’s election commission put turnout at 75.8 per cent, the highest in 15 years. Many voters differed over Ms Park’s suitability to tackle mounting economic problems, improve welfare for a rapidly ageing population and improve ties with North Korea after five years of deteriorating relations under hardline president Lee Myung-bak.
The legacy of her father, Park Chung-hee, continued to divide the country 33 years after his death. Older, conservative voters credit him with promoting rapid industrialisation and laying the foundations for the powerful economy of today.
Others, though, have never forgotten his ruthless crackdowns against opponents, some of whom were tortured or executed, and blame him for delaying the arrival of democracy.
Mr Moon (59) was among the democracy activists imprisoned during Park’s rule, which ended in 1979 when he was assassinated by his intelligence chief. Five years earlier, Park Geun-hye, then aged just 22, had been forced into the role of first lady after her mother, Yuk Young-soo, was killed by a North Korean assassin’s bullet intended for her husband.
Fond memories of her mother, South Korea’s most popular first lady, and a belief that she had inherited her father’s determined streak, may have given Ms Park the vital few votes that secured her victory.
– (Guardian service)