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Park sets ambitious goals for presidency

Story highlights

  • Park Geun-hye will become next president of South Korea
  • She pledged to take care of citizens in a time of economic anxiety
  • South Korea is a strategic Western ally and Asia's fourth-largest economy

Emerging from victory, Park Geun-hye who will become the next president of South Korea -- the first woman for the Asian nation -- pledged to "take care of our people one-by-one."

In a speech made at the headquarters of her Saenuri political party Thursday morning, she invoked a phrase coined by her father, Park Chung-hee, who also served as president in an era when he was encouraging people to pull South Korea out of poverty.

"I would like to re-create the miracle of 'let's live well' so people can worry less about their livelihood and young people can happily go to work," said Park.

Park, 60, will assume office in February, in a country grappling with income inequality, angst over education and employment prospects for its youth, and strained relations with North Korea. South Korea is also a strategic Western ally and the fourth-largest economy in Asia.

Park won 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for her rival, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party, according to the country's National Election Commission.

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Both the president-elect and Moon, the liberal candidate, had similarly moderate plans, addressing income inequality, reigning in the power of family-owned conglomerates and improving relations with North Korea.

"This wasn't the knockdown, drag out, left-against-right type of campaign," said David Kang, professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California. "There's a surprising consensus about taking a more moderate stance."

"I think Park won by acting to the center. Her claims are that she's going to moderate many of the policies of the previous administration."

Park acknowledged Moon and his supporters Thursday.

"I believe there is common ground between myself and Moon Jae-in," she said. "We are both willing to work for the country and for the people of South Korea.

"Whether you were for or against me, I want to hear your opinions. I will try to stop the separation and conflict that has been going on for the last half century through reconciliation and harmony."

Park of the Saenuri party, won the highest office in a conservative Asian nation with traditional gender values.

Read more: South Korea's election paradox

Just because a woman has won the presidency, it doesn't mean South Korea has achieved everything it needs in terms of gender equality, said Kang, who is also director of Korean Studies Institute at USC.

"That a woman could be elected in South Korea is historic and important. At the same time, what you basically have to do is be political royalty. So I think gender roles are changing in South Korea. It's a step forward, but let's also remember how unique she is as a person."

Park is the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, whose legacy left the Korean public divided. Some claim he was a dictator who ignored human rights and cracked down on dissent, while others credit him with bringing economic development to South Korea. Her father was assassinated in 1979.

President-elect Park Geun-hye bows in front of the grave of her father.

On Thursday, she paid her respects to her parents by visiting their graves at the National Cemetery in Seoul.

As in many other elections around the world, the economy reigned as the No. 1 issue for South Korean voters. Park has made ambitious promises to address those anxieties.

"I will create a society in which no one is left behind and everyone can share the fruits of economic development," she said. "I believe that only this can bring unity, economic democratization and happiness for people.

She also mentioned North Korea describing its recent rocket launch as a "serious security situation."

Park received congratulatory messages from Korea's outgoing President Lee Myung-bak as well as one from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Read more: Pocket, not rocket, worries Koreans

The United States and South Korea enjoy "stable relations," Kang said.

"Park is going to have to weigh U.S. as its main security ally and China as its main economic partner. That balancing act - keeping both with good relations - at some point, may become difficult," he said.

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