South Korea’s first female president will begin five-year term on February 25th 2013

24 Dec

indexAs most opinion polls predicted, Park Geun-hye of the ruling, conservative Saenuri Party defeated Moon Jae-in of the liberal opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) in the presidential election held on December 19th. Modern South Korea’s first female leader will begin her five-year term on February 25th 2013, returning to the Blue House where she lived for 18 years with her father, the military dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled between 1961 and 1979. The presidential election ended up being a simple two-way contest, and with no electoral college or transferable vote to complicate matters, Park Geun-hye became the first presidential candidate to win an absolute majority. She gained 52% of the votes cast against 48% for Moon Jae-in, representing a margin of over 1m votes. Despite the freezing cold weather, voter turnout was the highest in 15 years, at 75.8%. High voter turnout had been expected to help the DUP, by bringing out younger voters, the party’s key support base. Exit poll data suggest that most voters aged under 50 did indeed back Moon Jae-in, but those aged over 50 (who are more numerous in South Korea) plumped for Park Geun-hye. Regional trends followed the usual pattern: the south-west and Seoul supported Moon Jae-in, but this could not dent Park Geun-hye’s lead everywhere else.

Although dismaying almost one-half of the electorate, the continuity represented by Park Geun-hye’s win is a relief for foreign business, the US and the country’s other allies. Having shown great skill in party politics, the test of holding elected office now awaits her. In that regard, she is an unknown quantity, facing many challenges both at home and abroad.

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