South Korea Elects 1st Woman President, Dictator Park’s Daughter

Posted December 19th, 2012 at 10:00 am (UTC-5)
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Park Geun-hye [pronounced: park goon-'HEH] has won Wednesday's presidential election in South Korea and will become the country's first female head of state.

Her rival, Moon Jae-in, conceded the race shortly after the National Election Commission was quoted as saying the conservative Ms. Park was a certain winner.

Ms. Park, 60 years old, is a five-term lawmaker and a daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee.

She ran a tight race against her liberal rival, a human-rights lawyer who was once jailed under the administration run by Ms. Park's father.

Despite frigid winter weather, voters bundled up and turned out in long lines across the country, surpassing the turnout of the previous two presidential elections.

Casting her ballot earlier in Seoul, Ms. Park told reporters she was optimistic.

“Although the weather is cold, I hope everyone participates in voting and opens the new era that people have been waiting for. I will await your decision with a humble mind. I believe the wise South Korean people will lead the way to the Republic of Korea's new era.”

Moon, a center-left candidate from the opposition Democratic United Party, voted in the southeastern port city of Busan.

“I have tried my best. I have done all I could and everything is at God's disposal. The only way for our citizens to change the world is to vote.”

Both candidates have promised to ease South Korea's income gap between rich and poor, which has widened during President Lee Myung-bak's five years in office.

Ms. Park has pledged dialogue with North Korea, but has taken a tougher stance on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

North Korean defector Choi Young-hee, who escaped from Pyongyang in 2004, says she is disappointed by the hard-line stance President Lee's government took toward the North.

“Our earnest wish is unification. I have left my family in the North, survived a life-or-death crisis, and I cannot write a letter to them or see them. When unification is achieved I hope that we get to meet our family and live a happy life. I believe the next president will make our earnest wish a reality.”

Park's father, who ruled the country for 18 years, is both admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his suppression of dissent. He was assassinated in 1979.