Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

One Step Foward, Two Steps Back: South Korea’s First Female President Shadowed by Her Father’s Past

South Korea, the country in the developed world known for its gender inequality, elected their first female president, Park Geun-hye on Wednesday, December 19, 2012.  CNN reports that Park won the election against incumbent Moon Jae-in with roughly 52% of votes when Lee conceded with about 48% of votes.

Park, 60, is the daughter of authoritarian leader, the late Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. Park entered the political arena in 1974 at the age of 22 when she became South Korea’s First Lady after her mother’s death, which was a failed assassination attempt intended for her father.

Although Park Chung-hee is remembered for bringing economic prosperity to the country, he is also known for dsiregarding human rights and torturing enemies. In 1979, South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator was assassinated by his chief intelligence officer.

As a single woman, Park vows to serve her country as a mother is devoted to her children, according to The New York Times

“I have no family to take care of,” she said. “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. And if elected, I would govern like a mother dedicated to her family.”

The shadow of Park’s father continues to cast over Park. The older population who remembered Park’s father’s positive contributions to South Korea is mainly responsible for electing Park into office. On the other hand, Moon was more popular with the younger generation, after Park’s comment that her father’s coup d’etat during his reign was “necessary.”

Last September, Park publicly apologized for the crimes committed during her father’s presidency.

The tension of Park’s rise to political power became highly visible last Friday over Time Magazine Asia’s typo. LinkTV reports that the front cover of Time Magazine Asia’s issue featuring Park, originally titled “The Strongman’s Daughter”, was renamed “The Dictator’s Daughter” on Time’s online edition.  The implication’s of using the word “dictator” as opposed to “strongman” upset supporters of the Saenuri Party, the political party Park represents, while dissenters believed the online title better represented the former president.

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