1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Park Geun-hye
Image: Getty Images

The race begins

Jason Strother
August 20, 2012

Park Geun-hye has won her party's nomination to run as presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in December. If elected, Park would become the nation's first female head of state.


Park Geun-hye is the daughter of South Korea's late military dictator Park Chung-hee. Surveys place the conservative lawmaker ahead of all other potential candidates in this December's polls.

"I plan to herald in a new era of unity of all people," Park, 60, said on Monday following her landslide victory at her party's nomination convention.

Park is seen as a shrewd politician and is credited with giving her ruling New Frontier Party a makeover earlier this year in the wake of corruption scandals. She has also distanced herself from outgoing President Lee Myung-bak, whose approval rating has plunged during his final months in office.

No gender politics

Park's success in her party's nomination convention has little to do with her appeal to women voters. According to some observers, despite the benchmark that could be set by electing a female leader, gender politics would in fact work against Ms. Park.

"Her identity is not as a feminist candidate. She just happens to be a woman," Bak Sang-mee, an anthropologist at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, told DW.

After her mother's assassination in 1974, Park Geun-hye became South Korea's de-facto First lady until her father, Park Chung-hee, was murdered five years later. But, since emerging into the political spotlight in 2004 as her party's chairwoman, Park has played down her gender. And that, according to Bak, was an intentional, strategic decision.

"(Park) recognizes the existing order and follows rules that have been established by male politicians. And rather than change the political culture here, Park Geun-hye shows that she can be as capable as male politicians," Bak said.

Bak is not sure if voters are ready for a female president. So it will be in Park's best interest to continue downplaying her gender until the election later this year.

For some of South Korea's young female voters, Park is not the kind of politician who they'd want as their first woman president. Many cannot dissociate her from her father's iron-handed rule and consider her a child of privilege.

'Privileged' and 'conservative'

"She only represents the upper class, not ordinary Korean women," Kang Yoo-jung, 28, a PhD candidate at Seoul's Sookmyung Women's University, told DW.

"Park is too conservative, she learned too much from her father. I don't think we are ready for a woman president," said Chae Tae-song, a 24-year-old student at Sookmyung Women's University.

Chae added that she would support a female candidate from a left-leaning party if one were fielded in this election. But that doesn't seem likely. Instead, many young voters are pinning their hopes on Ahn Cheol-soo, a businessman and professor who advocates for socially progressive causes. He, however, has yet to announce his intentions to seek the nation's top job.

"A progressive candidate could (better) represent the interests of women," Bak said, adding that the candidate whose ideology appealed to the majority of voters would win the presidency and that gender would play a very small role.

Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979Image: Getty Images
Supporters of the ruling Saenuri Party cheer as Park Geun-hye speaks during a street campaign
Some voters are looking forward to a female presidentImage: dapd
Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics

Related topics

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

US soldiers line up next to a helicopter, all seen in silhouette

NATO alliance works to reinforce its eastern flank

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage