South Korea’s ruling party overwhelmingly voted for the daughter of an assassinated dictator to be its presidential candidate Monday, the first time a major party has chosen a woman to run for the post.
Veteran politician Park Geun-Hye – whose mother was killed by a pro-North Korean agent – secured a landslide 84 percent of the vote to easily see off four male challengers at the primary of the conservative New Frontier Party.
Opinion polls show her as current favorite to win the presidency in the December 19 vote.
Park, now 60, had narrowly lost out to Lee Myung-Bak in the party’s 2007 primary. Lee went on to become president but the country’s leaders are restricted to a single five-year term.
Beaming broadly, Park accepted a bouquet of flowers from party leaders and promised to secure the presidency and create a country “full of dreams and hope.”
She reiterated a commitment to “economic democratization”, in a country with a growing wealth gap and high youth unemployment, and said she would work to improve welfare schemes and create jobs.
Park promised to make a clean and transparent government, eradicate corruption, which has tarnished Lee’s administration, and safeguard the nation against external threats.
“I, Park Geun-Hye, will not tolerate any actions that threaten our people or damage our sovereignty,” she said in an acceptance speech.
She cited North Korea’s “provocations and nuclear threats” as well as territorial disputes with other countries, an apparent reference to the row with Japan over ownership of islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
“At this time of crisis, we need a prepared leader,” she said, adding she would open a new era of peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
Park is the daughter of Park Chung-Hee, who seized power in a coup in 1961 and was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979.
Her father won wide respect for transforming the poor war-ravaged nation into an economic juggernaut, but is also reviled in some quarters for his human rights abuses.
Park Geun-Hye also lost her mother to a gunman, a pro-North Korean agent who shot the first lady in 1974 while aiming for the president.
An opinion survey in Monday’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper gave her 38.8 percent support, followed by 27.1 percent for software mogul Ahn Cheol-Soo, an independent who has not officially declared his candidacy.
Moon Jae-In, the likely candidate of the left-leaning main opposition Democratic United Party, was third at 8.6 percent. The party will select its candidate next month.
However, the survey showed Park leading Ahn only narrowly in a two-way race.
Supporters praise Park for what they see as her calm and principled leadership. Opponents portray her as aristocratic and aloof.
Analysts say she is seen by many young, urban voters as an autocratic figure who does not communicate with ordinary people.
“It’s not easy for her to win broad support because of her conservative image,” Kookmin University professor Cho Choong-Bin told AFP. “Many younger voters do not expect any major change in economic policy and cross-border relations if she becomes president,” he said.
North Korea has lashed out at Park, even though she has distanced herself somewhat from Lee’s hard line on cross-border relations.
[image via Agence France-Presse]