Friday, October 26, 2012

Park-Geun-hye Vies to Become Next Female World Leader in South Korea

By: CJ Buskey
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Out of the 196 countries that span the globe, only 20 of them have elected a woman as its leader. By the end of the year, another country might add itself to this list.

South Korea will hold its Presidential election this December and one of the country’s leading candidates is a woman.

The candidate, Park Geun-hye, is running under the nomination of the ruling party, the conservative Saenuri Party, where she has been credited as one of the main reasons why the party has gained a ruling majority of 152 seats on the City Council.

“Park Geun-hye is definitely the leading candidate for this election, because she is the most qualified,” says Gwangju resident Rodney Kang.

“When she was in the Blue house, Cheongwadae, as the daughter of a former president, Park Junghee, she picked up politics and learned how to control power. She was actually trained to be his successor.”

Park Geun-hye announces her plan to run for president
    Courtesy of Ahn Young-joon- AP  Academic Fair use
Yet, South Korea, which has acted as a Democracy since 1948, has yet to see a woman seriously challenge for the Presidency until Park’s current campaign. Many South Koreans, however, don’t see Park’s gender as any reason to change their opinion of her.

“I don't care whether a President is a woman or not,” says Kim Hyeon Kyung, a female art teacher in Seoul, “but in Asian societies, being a woman can be a obstacle on her way.”

But Seoul resident and student Lee Sung Jin says he thinks that South Korea may be the exception to this belief.
“Nowadays, South Korea has become a culture that is open to change. I don’t believe that we have sexual discrimination here and it doesn’t matter to me what [Park’s] gender is. However, there are still a few groups that share this old type of thinking.”

One of these old beliefs that could affect Park negatively is the fact that Park is single.

“Most of the older generation thinks that if someone didn't raise children of their own and didn't support a family, they can't understand an average person’s real life,” says Kang, “they think that no family means no life, so how can she do well with national affairs.”

Another issue that concerns South Korean voters has nothing to do with Park as person, but with her family’s history.

Park is the daughter of former South Korea President Park Jung-Hee, who ruled the country for a span of nearly 20 years, until he was assassinated in 1979. Park’s father, despite helping South Korea’s economy to substantial growth, was viewed by many South Koreans as a dictator because of his authoritarian approach as well as curtailing constitutional freedoms during his regime.

“Most people don’t know her history,” says Lee, “but we know her father’s history. Park Jung-hee was a dictator. It’s really hot issue now.”

Recently, Park came under fire from other South Koreans for her attitude towards her father’s history. When asked in an interview in early September on what her feelings were on one of her father’s execution of several People’s Revolution Party activists in 1970, she replied “We’ve had two court rulings on that.” Park apologized two weeks later for her comments and has since denounced her father’s actions.

Former South Korea's President Park Chung Hee
Courtesy of NNDB mapper Academic Fair Use

“Whatever apologies she made, her conservative supporters would try to accept her apology, but her opponents, liberals, would not accept them,” says Changsup Lee, the Executive Managing Editor of the Korea Times. “The bottom line is not to alienate the undecided voters.”

Fortunately for Park, many of South Korea’s younger voters seem not to care as much about her father or gender.
“Even if her father was a dictator, I don't care. That and the fact she is a woman doesn’t affect me, even though I’m a woman,” says 29-year-old Song Kyoung Eun of Daejeon.

Oh Seung Hoon, a 28 year-old art teacher in Seoul, shares similar sentiments with Song.

“Maybe the old in here can be influenced with her father's history and her gender, but that's not effective to me and other younger people,” says Oh, “the first woman President of South Korea will be fabulous, even though I’m not sure it will be her.”

Park is trying to join the small minority of leaders across the worlds that are women, and some of them are already making an impact in office.

Germany’s Chancellor Anglea Merkel, for instance, has gained international recognition already for leading the discussions to help solve the ongoing Eurozone crisis.

Torsten Schwenke, who works out of Munich as a freelancer, says he believes that Merkel’s gender actually helps her favorability ratings.

“I like the fact that she is a woman, and I think that most Germans do as well. She is often considered as ‘The Mother’ and who doesn’t like his mother?”

Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, has also gained international recognition, especially after being named one of Forbe’s most powerful people in the world.

Park, however, still needs to be elected before she can begin to have aspirations of what Merkel has been able to accomplish as a female leader.

Kang says that the results of the U.S. election may in fact affect Park’s chances at getting elected.

“The worst-case scenario would be a win for [Mitt] Romney and Park Geun-hye. Because both are conservatives, they would likely increase the regional conflict with North Korea,” says Kang.

With two months to go until election, Park will have her work cut out for her. According to the most recent poll conducted by Research Plus, Park trails Ahn Cheol-soo 52-42 and Moon-Jae-in 48-46.

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