About 10 presidential hopefuls made their entries in the opinion polls conducted by major dailies and broadcasters at the beginning of the year. Park Geun-hye of the governing Grand National Party commanded supporting rates ranging from a high of 42.3 percent (MBC) to a low of 29.8 percent (Seoul Shinmun) with Ryu Shi-min of the People’s Participation Party and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon trailing neck-and-neck for second with single-digit figures.
The inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as the first female president of Brazil on New Year’s Day could have done a little to her favor as the event may have the effect of easing the sense of peculiarity in having a woman head of state among the Korean electorate. However, the high popularity of Park, who only has the title as “former GNP chairwoman” remains a conundrum for political analysts here, who find little reason for her strength other than her being a daughter of a former president.
Her father, Park Chung-hee, ruled the country for 18 years first as a coup leader and then as an authoritarian president who successfully implemented economic development plans to bring the nation out of poverty. Her loss of both parents in separate assassinations in a space of five years added to people’s affection for her when she joined politics in 1998 through an election near her father’s hometown.
In the presidential elections in 1997 and 2002, early leaders in polls failed to clinch the final victory, but in the last election in 2007, Lee Myung-bak maintained the lead from the beginning of campaign to win by the largest-ever margin of 5 million votes against the runner-up.
Park made a head start in her presidential bid by launching a large brain-trust, and disclosing an extensive welfare program as her policy framework with the help of these experts. Her political fate will be decided by how able she is to reinforce her image with proof of her practical ability in grasping and resolving state issues, but it will also depend much on how the other “dragons” join forces.