James Kim, News Writer
On Dec. 19, 2012 , Park Geun-Hye, the conservative candidate of the Saneuri Party for the eighteenth presidential election and the daughter of former President Park Chung-Hee, became the first female President of the Republic of Korea, defeating her liberal rival Moon Jae-In of the Democratic United Party by a narrow margin.
As was indicated by public opinion polls, the race between the two candidates was very competitive. With 75.8 percent of the turnout, the highest in 15 years, Park won 51.6percent of the votes while Moon gained 48.0 percent.
With the ferocity of the election and constant fluctuation of public opinion polls, many people were surprised by the result.
Andy Lee, a freshman, commented, “I was definitely surprised by the result of the election. I thought Mr. Moon Jae-In would win since we haven’t had any strong female politicians before in Korean politics.”
Park made an appearance in Seoul’s central Gwanghwamun Square after ascertaining her victory. She reaffirmed her promises to the nation and thanked the people for providing the opportunity to serve for the country.
She stated, “I will be the President of the nation who keeps pledges. This is considered a victory for people who want to overcome the crisis and revive the economy. I will never forget the will of the people who believed in me wherever I went during the election campaign. I will start an era of happiness in the nation.”
She vowed to fight widespread government corruption, improve social welfare, strengthen engagement with Pyongyang to bring denuclearization, reform the public education system, grant help to small companies, reduce social disparities, decrease the unemployment rate, close the growing gap between “the old and young generations”, ease heavy household debt and rein in powerful corporations that threaten to eclipse national laws.
Regarding her promises, students and teachers expressed their thoughts about which problems needed the most attention.
Senior Chris Kim claimed, “From this election, the problem of a social gap between the old and young generations has become evident. I hope that Mrs. Park will narrow this social gap so that our society becomes more united.”
“There have been issues about privatizing medical insurance. Mrs. Park has been ‘wishy-washy’ about her plan, but should come up with a definite plan that will guarantee basic medical care,” asserted Mrs. Choi, an Upper Secondary Spanish teacher. “If the system becomes privatized, people who can’t afford to pay medical bills will not be able to get even the most basic medical care.”
Although Park promised new plans to innovate and improve the country, her family background placed doubts on her qualification as a President. As the daughter of former “iron-fist” dictator Park Chung-Hee, many voters thought it impossible to separate her present from her past.
Her father seized power of South Korea through a military coup in 1961 and ruled until he was assassinated in 1979. During and after his presidency, he was criticized for changing the constitution to cement power, cracking down on dissent and opposition, abusing human rights, and delaying the development of democracy.
On the other hand, it is also widely accepted that he rebuilt the country from the ashes of Korean War and sparked a dramatic economic revolution also known as the “Miracle of the Han River.” Many economic analysts explain that Korea would not have achieved its economic pinnacle had there not been Park’s strong leadership.
Early on in the campaign, Park Geun-Hye defended her father’s actions, insisting that different times required different methods and solutions, but she later went on to apologize to those affected by his autocratic rule.
With two largely contrasting views of her past, people have expressed dichotomous expectations and thoughts.
Suin Park, senior and President of the SCA, voiced his thoughts:, “Frankly, I am bit worried about her ‘dark’ past, but judging from her apologies about her father’s past, I think she will take a different approach than her father did by learning from her father’s history.”
“I don’t think that she will repeat the mistakes of her father, but I do hope that she will have a strong leadership to revive the economy once again, like her father,” said senior Rachel Yeo.
Throughout the campaign, Park repeated, “I have no family to take care of. I have no child to inherit my properties. You, the people, are my only family, and to make you happy is the reason I do politics.”
As she will be inaugurated on Feb. 25, the Korean public will determine whether her dedication and love of the people will stay true to her words.