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Park Geun-hye: the female-future of South Korea
   
 
 
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Park Geun-hye: the female-future of South Korea

 
Sunday, 15 July 2012 18:00
 
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by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Insights

 

Park Geun-hye is a small woman of regal bearing. She is 60 years old, lives in a modest home in a quiet neighbourhood of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and she has never married. Her father,  Park Chung-hee, a general who ruled the country with an iron fist for 18 years but also laid the foundation for one of Asia's great economic success stories, was killed by his chief of intelligence at an alcohol-fuelled private dinner when she was 20. Her mother, Yuk Young-soo, had been shot dead by a pro-North Korean assassin five years earlier, forcing her daughter into a role as the country's first lady. Park emerged from the political wilderness in her mid-40s «to help save her country at the height of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis»; she has had three stints as the leader of the Conservatives, becoming the “Queen of Elections” for staging a series of comebacks for the Party.

After having succeeded in leading her revamped Saenuri Party, best known as New Frontier, the successor to the governing Grand National Party in the parliamentary elections in last April, she also stands a good chance of becoming the next President of South Korea. That would make her the first woman to be the democratically elected leader in a firmly patriarchal society of a Nation which is a strong male-dominated region of the entire Asia. Declaring her candidacy for the ruling New Frontier Party, Park Geun-hye, who once described her politics as “Korean Thatcherism”, has promised to tackle inequality, implementing more welfare policies, to create a country «where no one is left behind» and «to break the “vicious cycle of mistrust” between North and South Korea». She said that her country could collaborate with the hostile North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons programme: the two Koreas remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a armistice and not a peace treaty; two million troops are in a tense standoff on either side of the heavily armed border, including more than 20.000 US forces.

Park has vowed to work for a fairer economy: «People say this country and the economy grew, but their lives didn't get better and their happiness did not grow», she declared during one her speeches in Seoul. «The change you have been waiting for, Park Geun-hye will make it come true» she told an audience of largely older people, her support base. She also pledged to bring greater fairness to the business environment and, as the “Telegraph” reports, she said that while she will continue to eliminate pointless regulations, big corporations will be called upon to do more for the greater social good. «I will create a government that decisively implements the law so that corporations that have big influence can do all they can to meet their social responsibility».

According to Yoon Hee-wong, a senior analyst at the Korea Society Opinion Institute in Seoul, the only candidate who could hold out Ms Park at the next elections is Ahn Cheol-soo, a software entrepreneur-turned-academic whose message of social justice has attracted support from young urban voters. «Ahn is the only possible independent candidate worth discussing» said Yoon Hee-wong in a recent interview realized for the South-East Asian version of the “Guardian”. «His support comes from people who think traditional politics is inherently unfair, and politicians untrustworthy. (...) Unlike the other possible candidates, he has a proven knowledge of business and the economy. There is a huge amount of public interest in  him, despite his lack of experience».

Park Geun-hye is very appreciated in her country and a lot of South Koreans think very highly of her. She is as famous as a movie celebrity, and people, especially old men and women, “love” her because of her father who «saved us from hunger and put clothes on our backs», Im Hong-su, 74, a retired bus driver, said to “The New York Times”. Ms Park enjoys an almost saintlike aura among some of her followers as a woman who gave everything for her nation, losing both her father and her mother, and then forwent marriage and children. «She lives alone, does not have selfish desires and has no family to corrupt her», Lee Kyung-su, 72, a retired engineer, said.

In spite of her public good repute, South Korean politicians are divided on her fame: the Conservatives see in her their nostalgic hopes for regaining the sense of shared national purpose that flourished under her father, and they are in an unlikely race to claim “economic democracy” as the centrepiece of their campaign platform, trying to woo the less ideological and fiscally pragmatic urban voters who will be eyeing the candidates' visions for social equity. To the left, though, she is tained by her connection to one of the brutal military autocrats who imprisoned or killed political opponents before South Korea became a democracy in the late 1980s.

Ms Park has tried to create a softer image for herself as more sympathetic to the plight of job-hungry youngers Koreans. Ko Min-hwan, 32, who owns a shop in Gongju, said: «She has until the election to show to young voters that she really cares about helping us». Park Geun-hye is trying to do her best to become the next President of her country and to obtein a popolar plebiscite. She is a dreamer, and she dreams a South Korea better than it is today. «I dream of a country where anyone can dream of their own dreams and fully demonstrate their potential and talent» Park said in a rare comment on her Twitter page. «On July 10, I wish to make a start on creating such a country».

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 22:04
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