The Fe­male Touch

The South Korean Pres­i­dent has had a rocky ride to power. Is there a place for a woman at the top in her coun­try?

Southasia - - NEIGHBOR -

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By Taj M Khat­tak ark Geun-hye, the cur­rent and eleventh Pres­i­dent of South Korea, has an en­vi­ably long list of ‘firsts’ to her credit – she is the first woman to be elected as Pres­i­dent of South Korea, the first fe­male head of state in the his­tory of Korea, the first fe­male Pres­i­dent of a north­east­ern Asian na­tion and the first South Korean pres­i­dent to be born as a South Korean cit­i­zen.

Ms. Geun-hye is the daugh­ter of for­mer South Korean pres­i­dent, Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961 in a mil­i­tary coup and re­mained in of­fice for seven­teen years from 1962 un­til his as­sas­si­na­tion in 1979 by his own spy chief. Ear­lier, she lost her mother in 1974 in an un­suc­cess­ful as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on her fa­ther and acted as the first lady to her fa­ther for five years of his pres­i­dency.

Prior to her elec­tion as Pres­i­dent, Park was Chair­woman of the Con­ser­va­tive Grand Na­tional Party (GNP) from 2004 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2012 when the GNP changed its name to ‘Saenuri Party.’ She has long par­lia­men­tary ex­pe­ri­ence as she served four com­plete con­sec­u­tive terms as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of her con­stituency be­tween 1998 and 2012. She made his­tory in De­cem­ber 2012 when she de­feated her 59 years old lib­eral op­po­nent and for­mer hu­man rights lawyer Moon Jae-in for the South Korean pres­i­dency. She dis­played grace by not crit­i­ciz­ing her pre­de­ces­sor Lee Myung-bak’s diplo­matic poli­cies at the start of her pres­i­den­tial term – some­thing which had been a gen­eral prac­tice in the past.

The last three years, how­ever, have been tu­mul­tuous for her by all ac­counts. Her poli­cies have been seen as in­con­sis­tent and her re­forms blocked by an ap­pre­hen­sive par­lia­ment. The rul­ing Saenuri party has suf­fered a ma­jor set­back in re­cent elec­tions. It had 152 seats in a house of 300 mem­bers and was ex­pected to hold that strength but the num­bers have dropped to 122. The Min­joo party of South Korea, with 123 seats, is now the largest party in the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

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