The Two-Way
2:05 pm
Wed December 19, 2012

South Korea To Get Its First Female Leader

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 5:47 am

Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye claimed victory Wednesday in South Korea's closely contested presidential election, an outcome that will make her the first woman to lead the Asian nation.

In addition, Park boasts a fascinating personal history that's deeply intertwined with South Korea's evolution in recent decades.

Park's father, Park Chung-hee, was a military dictator who seized power in 1961 and ran the country for nearly two decades. He was known as a ruler who suppressed democracy, but also oversaw Korea's rapid economic rise from a mostly agricultural society to a global industrial powerhouse.

In 1974, gunmen attempted to assassinate him, but instead killed his wife. Their daughter, Park Geun-hye, just 22 at the time, effectively became the country's first lady.

Park Chung-hee continued to rule until he was assassinated five years later, in 1979.

With South Korea now a solidly democratic country, Park Geun-hye, who has never married or had children, has been a lawmaker for the conservative New Frontier Party.

In Wednesday's presidential race, she won about 52 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating her liberal rival, Moon Jae-in, according to NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul.

"This is the triumph of the people's desire to overcome crisis and to rescue the economy," Park told supporters. "I will be a president that keeps the promises I made to you and ushers in a new era of happiness."

She has pledged to strengthen the country's social safety net at a time when economic growth has slowed. And during the campaign, Park apologized for human rights abuses committed by her father.

Park has also advocated more engagement with North Korea, where Kim Jong Un — the son and grandson of the previous two leaders — came to power just a year ago.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.