President-elect Park Geun-hye took Wednesday’s election by a small storm.
The conservative politician beat Rep. Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party by more than 3 percentage points, a margin much larger than expected by observers and pollsters, or projected by exit polls that put her 1.2 percentage points ahead.
Having gained 51.6 percent of the votes, she is the first to take more than half of the votes. She is also the first female politician to take the top post not only in Korea but in Northeast Asia, and the first conservative to receive more than 10 percent of the votes in the Jeolla provinces in recent history.
Although the winning margin was larger than expected, the count revealed no major upsets in terms of support by region and age group.
For weeks, pollsters had predicted that the election would come down to a clash of generations and a regional divide, a scenario that accurately played out.
According to the exit polls compiled by the three terrestrial broadcasters ― KBS, MBC and SBS ― 65.2 percent and 72.5 percent of the voters in their 20s and 30s, respectively, cast their ballots.
Of the older voters, the turnout in their 50s came in at 89.9 percent while the figure for 60 and older came in at 78.8 percent.
As forecast by surveys, Park received only about a third of the younger voters’ support while Moon’s figures were close to double those of the president-elect.
The situation among the two oldest groups ― 50s, 60s and over ― was the exact opposite.
By region, Park dominated the field in the Gyeongsang and Gangwon provinces, while the vast majority of the votes in the Jeolla provinces were given to Moon.
The conservative also faired much better than her predecessors in Seoul, and the surrounding regions.
Unlike previous conservative candidates who went up against an iconic progressive nominee, Park not only lost Seoul by a relatively small margin, but won over Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.
With the older age groups estimated to have given much higher support for Park, some observers have described her victory as a result of the “cohesion of the conservatives.”
According to the exit polls Park outpaced Moon by 25.1 percentage points among voters in their 50s, and the gap was wider at 44.8 percentage points among voters older than 60 years of age.
Others, however, say that the voters with moderate political views played the greater part in Park’s victory.
“People think that there are large numbers of conservatives and progressives, but this is not the case. One study showed that about 23 percent (of the population) is progressive, 27 percent conservative and about 40 percent moderate,” professor Yang Seung-ham of Yonsei University said. He added that Park had also taken a “left turn” in her policy-making and put forward some leftist pledges such as increased welfare.
“These moderate voters chose Park, because they chose stable change over the instability brought by the dramatic and fundamental changes that would have been necessary for Moon’s idealistic progressive policies.”
Regarding the phenomena of the oldest voters ― many of whom experienced and opposed late former President Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship ― supporting Park, Yang said that the developments are unlikely to have been fueled by nostalgia for the majority.
“If you regard her simply as Park Chung-hee’s daughter, it is impossible to support her. But, she has shown that she is a leader with principles and worthy of trust,” Yang said.
“These people would have judged that she is capable of bringing changes in a stable manner, and only the hardcore conservatives would have chosen her due to nostalgia for her father.”
Yang, however, warned that Park stands to quickly lose public support if she seeks to glorify the shortcomings of Park Chung-hee’s regime along with its achievements.
Despite the record-setting win and the highly favorable conditions within the political arena, Park’s presidency is unlikely to be a smooth ride.
She has near absolute backing of her party ― even from the likes of Rep. Chung Mong-joon who is well known for having been misaligned with Park ― that commands 153 of the 300 National Assembly seats.
However, the tasks the second Park administration will face are likely to require more than political clout. The daughter of the dictator takes the helm at a time when political divide is deepening in the country while the global slowdown paints a gloomy picture for Korea’s export-driven economy.
In addition, she is faced with tasks more personal in nature.
Park’s political leadership has earned her the nickname “Queen of Elections” for her apparent ability to take campaigns to victory as seen in the April 11 general elections.
Observers describe her style of leadership as one of the “right path” that places significance on principles and doing what is deemed right with regards to the issue in question, rather than her own gains.
However, the same strict leadership style has fueled criticism that she is hierarchical and removed.
“Park is fair, and there are no channels to approach her,” Yang said, saying that it was a factor that prevents corruption.
“But that is not all good. Once she is president, she should open many channels to communicate with others.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org