After defeating Moon Jae-in in elections on December 19, 2012, she finally returned to her childhood home as the first female president of a country where women continue to face widespread sexism, huge income gaps with men doing the same work and few opportunities to rise to the top in business, politics and other fields.
When Park Geun-hye (Born: February 2, 1952) last lived in the presidential Blue House more than thirty years ago, she was a young, stand-in first lady, who served after the assassination of her mother and before the killing of her dictator father.
"Ms Park’s presidency will hopefully shatter the bias that women are less capable of thriving in male-oriented South Korean politics",
said Lim Woo-youn, a researcher at the Chungcheongnam-do Women’s Policy Development Institute in central South Korea.
The Still Lingering Divisions
Her biggest challenge will likely be the divisions that still linger from the eighteen years that her father, president Park Chung-hee, ruled South Korea.
Many, including the older conservative voters who form her political base, see her father as a hero, the man whose strong hand guided the country from the devastation of the Korean War to an economic force that lifted millions from crushing poverty.
His critics however remember the brutal way he dealt with opponents to his unchecked rule, the claims of torture, execution and vote rigging.
"There’s still a sentiment that rejects Park Geun-hye because of her father’s brutality. Ms Park must appear sincere when she tries to heal the past, as president. She needs to convince people that she’s sympathetic to the pain caused by her father’s rule",
said Lee Cheol-hee, a political analyst and head of the Dumon Political Strategy Institute think tank.
What Was Ms Park’s Election Platform?
During her campaign to replace unpopular president Lee Myung-bak, a member of her conservative party, she vowed she would:
Reach out to North Korea and ease the current government’s hard line.
Fight widespread government corruption.
Strengthen social welfare.
Help small companies, close growing gaps between rich and poor.
Ease heavy household debt.
And curb the power of big corporations which are so powerful that threaten to prevail over national laws.
So keeping her pledges won’t be easy.
Is She Like Her Father Or Like Elizabeth I of England
But despite her history-making win and her efforts to forge her own path, many see her as only the embodiment of her father, who grabbed power in a 1961 coup, and ruled with ruthless efficiency until his spy chief shot him dead at a 1979 drinking party.
Critics have long seized on what they see as Ms Park’s queen-like aura in an attempt to link her with her father.
Ms Park herself points to the embodiment of female imperial rule, Elizabeth I of England, as her role model.
"We have known Park Geun-hye as an imperial candidate, and no one can argue with her decision’,
said Yoon Yeo-joon, a key member of the camp of her liberal opponent, Mr Moon.
The Image That Ms Park Created
Much of Ms Park’s public persona has been built on her close association with her father’s rule.
She has created the image of a selfless daughter of Korea, never married, who served first her father as his first lady and then the people as a female lawmaker in South Korea’s tough political world.
It’s rumored that when she was young that she prayed for rain in the Blue House, instead of sleeping during a devastating drought.
Even her choice of college major, electronic engineering, which her website describes as "rare for women", is put down to self-sacrifice, and an effort to help the country increase exports by concentrating on developing electronic industries.
Her Mother’s And Father’s Deaths
Her early dreams of living a normal life were crushed on August 15, 1974 when a Korean resident of Japan, claiming orders from North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, shot and killed her mother in a botched assassination attempt meant to kill her father.
At 22, she rushed home from Paris, where she was studying, and for the next five years stood by her father’s side as acting first lady.