S Korea elects first woman president

Supporters of South Korea’s presidential candidate Park Geun-Hye react as they celebrate victory outside the party’s office in Seoul yesterday. Left, Park Geun-Hye

South Korea elected its first female president yesterday, handing a slim but historic victory to conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the country’s former military ruler.

As leader of Asia’s fourth-largest economy, Park, 60, will face numerous challenges, handling a belligerent North Korea, a slowing economy and soaring welfare costs in one of the world’s most rapidly ageing societies.

With 85 percent of the national vote counted, Park had an insurmountable lead of 51.6 percent to 48 percent over her liberal rival, Moon Jae-In of the main opposition party.

The election was largely fought on domestic economic issues, with both candidates offering similar policies as they went in search of centrist voters beyond their conservative and liberal bases.

Park had pushed a message of “economic democratisation” — a campaign buzzword about reducing the social disparities thrown up by rapid economic development — and promised to create new jobs and increase welfare spending.

She also signalled a willingness to resume the humanitarian aid to Pyongyang suspended by current President Lee Myung-Bak.

To some extent yesterday’s election was seen as a referendum on the legacy of Park’s father, Park Chung-Hee.

He was shot dead by his spy chief in 1979. Park’s mother had been killed five years earlier by a pro-North Korea gunman aiming for her father.

Park, 60, never married and has no children — a fact that makes her popular with voters tired of corruption scandals surrounding their first families.

A female president will be a huge change for a country that the World Economic Forum recently ranked 108th out of 135 countries in terms of gender equality — one place below the United Arab Emirates and just above Kuwait.

Source:The Daily Star


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