SK’s first female president faces uphill battle

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iol pic wld sk Park Geun-Hye REUTERS South Korea's conservative President-elect Park Geun-hye speaks during a news conference at the main office of ruling Saenuri Party in Seoul.

Seoul -

Park Geun Hye, who takes office on Monday as South Korea's first female president, faces an uphill battle in reviving the economy and managing relations with its prickly northern neighbour.

In her dealings with Pyongyang, the new president advocates a “trustpolitik” concept that contrasts with the more hardline stance of outgoing President and fellow conservative Lee Myung Bak.

But February's nuclear test in North Korea, which drew near-universal international condemnation, will make her efforts at rapprochement even more difficult.

Park, 61, is no stranger to Seoul's Blue House, as the presidential residence is called. She served as first lady to her father, military dictator Park Chung Hee, from the age of 22 when her mother was killed in a failed 1974 assassination attempt on her father.

Five years later, her father was assassinated, and Park Geun Hye dropped from view for years before returning to politics in South Korea.

After entering parliament in 1998, she built a solid base for herself in the ruling Saenuri Party, or New Frontier Party.

She served as chairwoman from March 2004 to June 2006 when the party still went by the name of the Grand National Party. In April, she was elected to the National Assembly for the fifth time, bearing out her reputation as “queen of the elections.”

For many South Koreans, Park's political career has been overshadowed by her father's reputation, which remains high among large parts of the population, although her election campaign sought to shrug off the image of the former dictator's daughter.

She prefers to see herself as a steadfast leader. “I stand before you today as a captain on a ship who is trying to steer her boat in the midst of history's cascading waves,” she said.

The new president is unmarried and is regarded as distant, lacking the charisma of her father, who laid the foundations for rapid economic growth during his 1961-1979 rule.

While opponents charge that she has never distanced herself from her father, even if she has apologized for human rights violations during his rule, she does enjoy a reputation for her intellect and devotion to principle.

Park represents a new and enlightened conservatism, advocating the provision of greater social care by the state.

Born in Taegu on February 2, 1952, as the first child of Park Chung Hee and Yuk Young Soo, she has a brother and a sister. She holds a degree in electronic engineering from Sogang University in Seoul and also studied briefly in France. - Sapa-dpa


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