Park Geun-hye is seeking to become the first female president of South Korea.
If she succeeds in her quest she will be following a family tradition -- her father was none other than Park Chung-hee, the controversial dictator who ruled the country throughout the 1960s and 1970s until he was murdered by his own spy chief.
Park Chung-hee was credited for modernizing South Korea but widely castigated for human rights abuses during his lengthy tenure.
During his term he was targeted by assassins several times. In 1974, a North Korean sympathizer murdered his wife, Yuk Young-soo, with a bullet meant for him.
Now his daughter, the 60-year-old Park Geun-hye, from South Korea’s ruling conservative Saenuri (New Frontier) Party is likely to win the party’s backing at a primary next month and try to succeed current President Lee Myung-bak who will step down next year following the mandatory one term. (The party nominated Lee for the presidency in 2007, rejecting Park Geun-hye’s candidacy for the top job.)
Among other measures, Park Geun-hye wants to provide more welfare services to the South Korean people and said she will seek closer ties with North Korea if they relinquish their nuclear weapons program.
I will devote… everything to make the Republic of Korea a country in which everybody can achieve their dreams, she said at a press briefing in western Seoul.
Politicians have been mired in political fights and slandering without caring about matters related to people's livelihoods … I have fought to keep promises to the people and I will continue to do so in the future.
In the event Park Geun-hye becomes president, she will be the first female leader of the country, an unprecedented event in the region (neighbors China and Japan have never had a female as head of state, either).
Indeed, she would be following in the footsteps of South Asian nations, where daughters of political leaders have often successfully attained power themselves -- including India’s Indira Gandhi (daughter of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru) and Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto (daughter of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).
Park Geun-hye may have proved her own toughness by surviving a knife attack by a deranged man during a campaign for local elections in May 2006.
Women in South Korea have made great strides since the country transformed into a democracy in the early 1980s (after the death of Park Geun-hye’s father), particularly in the public sector. In 1996, the government imposed a quota -- at least 30 percent of all government posts (excluding the police and military) must be given to women.
In the private sector, however, women lag far behind men – according to data from 20-First.com, women represent less than 2 percent of the boards of South Korea’s four largest corporations that dominate the economy (Samsung, Hyundai, LG Corp. and SK Group); as of 2007, South Korea had the lowest employment rate (61 percent) for women with college degrees in all the OECD countries; and less than half of working-age South Korean women are employed, versus 70 percent for men.
Despite being one of the 15 largest economies in the world, South Korea finished 115th out of 134 countries in the World Economic Forum’s index of gender equality in 2009.
Thus, Park Geun-hye will be carrying a strange legacy -- the scion of a brutal dictator, but potentially a historic figure for the advancement of women’s rights in the tradition-bound country of South Korea.
Kim Jae-kyung, a 70-year-old woman told the Yonhap news agency: She [Park] learned from politics from an early age. She doesn't lie. Most politicians reverse their words, but she doesn't. I believe she'll be a good president. As a woman, I want to see a female president in my lifetime.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.