Park Geun-hye, 60, presidential candidate of the ruling party, edged out Moon Jae-in, 59, nominee of the opposition party, by a narrow margin — becoming South Korea’s first female President on Wednesday.
“Park Geun-hye has made history. The keen contest that saw an unprecedented voter turnout of 75.8% can do any democracy proud,” Vishnu Prakash, Indian ambassador to South Korea, told HT just after exit polls when a majority of the votes had been counted. Park had a little over 3% lead over Moon in the country’s most captivating presidential elections. The formal results will be announced on Thursday.
Park is the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee who has been hailed as a great moderniser as well as a brutal dictator ruling Korea between 1961 and 1979. Moon was a student activist and human rights lawyer, who was once imprisoned for opposing the dictator’s authoritarian rule.
Nae Young Lee, director of Asiatic Research Institute, describes her as “experienced and stable but rigid and inflexible”. “The young lot doesn’t like her because they feel she represents the past. The older generation likes her because she reminds them of her father. For many, he was a hero for lifting South Korea out of poverty.”
“Park is a strong woman, someone who will stand like a rock during a crisis,” says HK Kho, professor at Pusan University of Foreign Studies. Park entered politics in 1998 by winning the national assembly seat in her father’s hometown. “She has a conservative, market-oriented political stance. But she has not got out of her father’s shadow. Her father is a political asset for her, but at the same time she has been criticised for being the daughter of a dictator,” adds Kho.
Park has one younger sister and a brother. She has never been married and her private life is almost unknown.