Park Geun-Hye was sworn into office as the new president of South Korea on Monday, becoming the nation’s first female president. But who is the woman who grew up under the shadow of one of South Korea’s most controversial leaders?
Despite being a modern, competitive democratic nation, the implementation of democracy is a relatively new concept in Korea. It wasn’t until the 1980s that true democratic reform came to the nation. Following the armistice that stalled the war that still divides the two Koreas to this day, there was a succession of leaders in this nation that were not democratically elected.
One of these leaders was Park Chung-Hee, the father of the newly elected president. Park Chung-Hee was a general in the ROK Army, and led a coup d’état in which he seized power over the South. Two years after taking power by force, he held a general election, and won the presidency under more legitimate terms.
Park Chung-Hee’s presidency remains a topic of debate in South Korea to this day.
Many consider him to be a national hero, who took a struggling nation from devastation into the modern world. He industrialized Korea, and led the nation into rapid economic development during his reign from 1961-1979.
At the same time, Park’s administration was involved in a litany of human-rights abuses. In 1972, he tossed the constitution of South Korea out the proverbial window and declared himself president for life, declaring martial law. His reign over South Korea ended in 1979 when he was assassinated.
Move forward to 2013, and Park Geun-Hye is now the democratically elected president. As the daughter of the former dictator, she was asked about her father’s legacy, to which she suggested that it was a necessary step in the development of the nation. And she has taken a fair amount of criticism for her lineage. Park Geun-Hye is a strongly conservative politician, and seems willing to stick to her opinions even at the cost of popular opinion.
How the new president’s legacy turns out is yet to be determined. Presidential terms in Korea are for five years, and unlike in the United States and other nations, there is no possibility of re-election to the position. And while her story has yet to be finished, she will undoubtedly have to shake the image of simply being the dictator’s daughter.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, Psy performed at the inauguration.