Park Geun-hye may have the most nicknames among Korean politicians. Supporters call the Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate “Korea’s Thatcher” and “Election Queen.” Dissenters like to deride her as “Dictator’s Daughter,” “Notebook Princess” and “Furious Geun-hye.”
One sure thing is that she is extremely beloved by many and deeply detested by just as many.
Her polarizing nature largely stems from the vicissitudes of the 60-year-old lawmaker’s life.
The eldest daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, she stepped into statecraft at 22 when her mother Yuk Young-soo was assassinated by a North Korean spy in 1974. She served as first lady until her father was killed by his trusted aide in 1979.
Park Geun-hye, Saenuri presidential candidate
Thirty-three years later, Park is now seeking to become the country’s first-ever female president in her second bid since 2007.
Her family background and her father’s controversial legacy is a double-edged sword for her. Many voters feel nostalgia for his leadership and economic drive. But she came under fire recently after advocating her father’s armed coup in 1961.
Park returned to politics in 1998 as a lawmaker and took the helm of the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri, in 2004.
She vied for the party’s candidacy for the 2007 presidential race but lost to Lee Myung-bak. She has since remained low-key. But she has always been the most promising presidential candidate of the party.
Widely popular among mid-aged and elderly voters, she has greatly contributed to the party in elections including the April general elections, in which the party scored a surprise win further cementing her power.
Once a staunch advocate of market economics, she recently shifted to put forward economic democratization and broader welfare at a time of economic difficulty. Political reform is another pillar of her campaign.
Only time will tell whether she will play the “Election Queen” for herself.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)