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?
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.