Park Geun-hye

President of South Korea

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Official Stats

  • Official Title: President
  • Government: Well-established democracy
  • Years Left in Office: To 2018; no re-election possible
  • Political Classification: Center-right
  • Education: BA in Electrical Engineering
  • Age: 65 (born February 1, 1952)

Park Geun-hye Facts and Information

Important Points

  • Park is the first female President of South Korea.
  • Park was born into a presidential family. Her father was Park Chung-hee, the third President of South Korea.
  • Park is single, and has often referred or alluded to herself being “married to South Korea.”
  • Park is the most powerful woman in East Asia, according to Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
  • Park’s biggest challenge is walking out of her father’s shadow. She has been given the unpopular moniker of being “the daughter of a dictator.”
  • The April 16 2014 sinking of a passenger ferry has created a national tragedy that may see a massive, long-term drop in support of the Park administration

The Rundown

Pop quiz: Can you name a female head of state in this East Asian segment after 2000?  No?  That’s okay because, in what is considered a male dominated profession in this region, one has to go out of the region, all the way south to the Philippines to find the last female head of state in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (who served as Philippine President from 2001-2010).  Fast forward to present day, the only female in the East Asian party full of male leaders is none other than Park Geun-hye, the leader of South Korea.

Park has been immersed in politics since she was a little girl.  Her father was the third President of South Korea, Park Chung hee. After the assassination of her mother when she was 22 years old, Park Geun-hye became the First Lady of South Korea.  Imagine that! Unfortunately the tragedy did not end there for Park as her father was assassinated in 1979.  Park Chung hee, who oversaw South Korea’s quick rise to the International stage during his presidence, was instead shunned and disliked by his own people, who saw him as a ruthless autocrat.  Park Geun-hye was therefore bestowed the unpopular moniker, “daughter of a dictator.”

However, words did not make her lose her passion for politics and her love for the South Korean people.  Park became the chairwoman for the Grand National Party (GNP) in 2004.  That same year, the GNP had lost its majority position in the South Korean National Assembly.  By 2006, she assisted the GNP in winning all 40 local reelections and by-elections held, which then the nickname was given to Park as “Queen of Elections.”  In 2007, she ran for the presidential nominee to represent the GNP in the Presidential elections, only to lose by less than 2% to Lee Myung-bak, who would become President of South Korea in 2007. 

Indirectly as a response to Lee’s unpopular term as President, Park distanced herself from Lee’s inner circle and looked for “new frontiers” in the GNP renamed Saenuri Party (Saenuri is Korean for New Frontiers, get it?).  In the 2012 National Elections, Park guided the Saenuri Party to a majority.  Parlaying this win, Park announced her intentions to run for President later that year.  She cruised to an easy primary election win, securing 85% of the vote to become the Saenuri presidential nominee.  Holy Kimchee!  The “Queen of Elections” led every major opinion poll all the way to the Presidential election, where she secured almost 52% of the popular vote, becoming the first woman to be elected President of South Korea.  Upon her successful election, Park promised “a new era of government and she would be a ‘president for the people.’” 

For her though, it is easier said than done.  She is faced with a laundry list of challenges but none more important than the neighbor to the North.  After Park assumed office, North Korea’s Leader and known fatso Kim Jong Un conducted its 3rd nuclear test in defiance of almost everybody else in the global community.  Park did not hesitate and, with the support of the global community including China and Russia (both of which have been sympathetic towards North Korea), petitioned the United Nations in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2094, which enforced sanctions against North Korea.

Park, however, is looking to reverse the previous administration’s hardline stance against North Korea.  Her ultimate goal is the “100% completion of Korea,” which involves eventual reunification of lost relatives and friends divided during the Korean War.  Dependent on this goal is the restart and regeneration of humanitarian aid to while reconfiguring social dialogue and cultural connections with the reclusive North, both severed by the previous administration.  It will be a very tall task for Park, as North Korea continues its unhelpful and provocative actions on the international stage.

The other elephant in the room in this region is Japan.  After the rise and continued provocations by China’s military in the East Asian region, Japan has leaned heavily on the United States to keep China in check.  With a large United States military presence in South Korea, especially the De-Militarized Zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea has no choice but to follow Japan in aligning with the United States foreign policy against China (In reality though, Japan and South Korea dislike each other.  Comfort women and the Yakasuni Shrine are two phrases Koreans NEVER want to hear).  As much as Park wants to deflect China’s rise, she is caught in the middle trying to both appease the United States, and to follow in Japan’s shadows.

Other challenges Park is faced with include domestic issues.  One would think the country, being one of the ‘Asian Tigers,’ everything is hunky dory right?  Wrong.  Corruption has long been a problem plaguing the country, with too big to fail companies bullying the state at the expense of taxpayers and the citizens.  Corruption is such a big problem it has plagued previous South Korean presidents! South Korea also possesses one of the highest rates of divorce and suicide.  Even worse, South Korea is home to one of the lowest birth rates; 217th in the World at 1.21 children per couple (According to the CIA, there are 223 states and entities in the World). There’s no easy fix for the problems South Korea faces and Park has her work cut out for her!

However, Park is one tough cookie and will not go down without a fight.  She has endured the assassination of her parents, unimaginative nicknames, knife slashings to the face (which required 60 stitches), all in the name of politics.  Given her background and her upbringing, Park has plenty of haters but given her track record, she is out to prove every single one of those haters wrong. With all that she is dealing with, Park is definitely one leader you will want to keep tabs on.

2014 UPDATE: TERRIBLE TITANIC TRAGEDY !!!!
On 16 April 2014 the passenger ferry MV Sewol tragically sunk en route to Jeju from Incheon. The ferry completely capsized while carrying 476 people, 289 of which died—-most of the deaths were secondary school students from Danwon High School who were on a class trip.  Catastrophic mismanagement by the ferry captain and personnel and the South Korean Coast Guard, combined with poor government response have made this situation into a gigantic national tragedy of epic proportions.

The sinking of the Sewol has resulted in widespread social and political reaction within South Korea, ranging from criticism of the actions of the captain and most of the crew of the ferry, to criticism of the ferry operator and the regulators who oversaw its operations, to criticism of the South Korean government and media for its disaster response and attempts to downplay government culpability due to lax safety laws. For President Park, this has been an unmitigated political disaster personally: her approval ratings have fallen from a high of 71 percent before the disaster to “the 40 percent range” weeks afterwards.

On 15 May 2014, the captain and 3 crew members were charged with murder, while the other 11 members of the crew were indicted for abandoning the ship. On April 27, Jung Hong-won, the prime minister of South Korea, accepted responsibility and announced his resignation. On 29 April, President Park indirectly apologized for the government’s response to ferry sinking….and on 18 May 2014, Park announced the complete dissolution of the South Korean Coast Guard itself. Wow.

Lesson: never underestimate the power of a natural disaster or national tragedy to totally change the political fortunes of the leaders of that country. A great response strengthens your hand; a bad response can tank you. And the Park administration is learning this hard lesson, in a very hard way.

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