Skip to main content

Park Geun-hye, president's daughter, ascends to top job

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
December 20, 2012 -- Updated 1226 GMT (2026 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Park Geun-hye, 60 won the presidency to become first female to lead South Korea
  • Park returns to the Blue House, where her father once served as president
  • She drew inspiration from Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II

What does election Park Geun-hye's election mean for South Korea? Share your thoughts.

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Park Geun-hye lived up to her nickname as the "Queen of Elections" after winning the race Wednesday to become South Korea's first female president.

Park, 60, will return to the Blue House, the official residence for the nation's president, where she spent her formative years.

She has admitted to taking inspiration from Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Throughout her campaign, Park used her gender in television campaign advertisements, signing off as "the prepared female president."

South Korea elects woman as president
A tight presidential race in South Korea

On Wednesday night, Park smiled broadly, shook hands with supporters who chanted "President Park Geun-hye," and pledged "an era of happiness."

But as the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, many see it impossible to separate her present from her past. Park Chung-hee seized power in a military coup in 1961 and ruled until he was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979. It is widely accepted he rebuilt the country from the ashes of the Korean War and sparked a dramatic economic transformation, but his methods split the country

He changed the constitution to cement power and cracked down on dissent and opposition. Though Park did hold and win a number of elections during his reign, he is also accused of human rights abuses and delaying the advent of democracy in South Korea.

Park Geun-hye walks with her late father and former president Park Chung-hee in 1977.
Park Geun-hye walks with her late father and former president Park Chung-hee in 1977.

Earlier in the campaign, Park Geun-hye spent months defending her father's actions, insisting different times required different methods. But in September, she finally apologized to those hurt by his dictatorial rule.

"I understand that the end does not justify the means," she said. "And this should be a lasting value for democracy."

North Korea holds little sway in South Korea's election

Park Geun-hye poses in a 1979 group photo with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in the Blue House.
Park Geun-hye poses in a 1979 group photo with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in the Blue House.

Her core support was among the over-50s, those who remember her father fondly as well as his economic policies that dragged the country out of poverty. His wife, Yuk Young-soo, remains to this day the most popular first lady South Korea has seen, according to polls. Known affectionately as "mother of the nation," some supporters say Park resembles her mother with her frugal lifestyle and 1970s hairstyle.

At a memorial service for her mother in August, she said she shares her mother's vision of a more equal society. "It was my mother's dream, and her dream is now mine."

Park Geun-hye, now a South Korean presidential candidate, shakes hands with graduates of Air Force Academy in 1979.
Park Geun-hye, now a South Korean presidential candidate, shakes hands with graduates of Air Force Academy in 1979.

Both of her parents were killed during their time in the Blue House. Her mother was assassinated in 1974, killed by a botched North Korean attempt to kill her father. Park stepped in as first lady until her father's assassination in 1979. She then withdrew from public life.

Being her father's daughter is a double-edged sword and one that Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul says she cannot avoid: Will she be capable of challenging, deviating from the traditions of the heritage of her father, he asked.

Park defeated liberal rival, Moon Jae-in, a former human rights activist, who was imprisoned during the 1970s for protesting against the regime of Park's father.

CNN's Madison Park contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT