Park Wins S. Korea Ruling Party’s Presidential Nomination

Park Geun Hye
Park Geun Hye, former leader of the ruling New Frontier Party, waves after being elected the party's presidential candidate at a national convention in Ilsan, north of Seoul. Source: Yonhap News via Bloomberg

Park Geun Hye, whose father ruled South Korea as dictator for 18 years, won the ruling party’s presidential nomination today, bringing her a step closer to her goal of becoming the country’s first female leader.

Park, 60, beat four other candidates to win 84 percent of the vote in ballots cast by party lawmakers, non-elected members and citizens. The opposition has yet to name a candidate to contest the Dec. 19 election and there is speculation that independent software magnate Ahn Cheol Soo will run.

“I vow to win this presidential election and to create a new South Korea, one full of hopes and dreams,” Park said in her acceptance speech in Seoul. She pledged to promote economic growth and welfare to create a society “everyone can share.”

The never-married eldest daughter of late leader Park Chung Hee, Park must revitalize a party hurt by scandals and President Lee Myung Bak’s plummeting approval ratings. She has signaled that she may depart from the NFP’s economic policies to respond to public dissatisfaction over youth unemployment and rising income disparity.

“Winning the nomination was a fait accompli,” said Park Won Hon, a political science professor at Seoul National University. “Her biggest challenge now is to broaden her fan base to include the youth vote, which will decide whether Park secures the victory or not.”

Second Attempt

This was Park’s second attempt at winning her party’s nomination for president, after the primary in 2007. As Lee’s single five-year term comes to a close in February, he faces mounting discontent for his failure to deliver on election promises to boost economic growth to an annual 7 percent and per-capita income to $40,000 by 2017.

Instead, the global slowdown cut growth to 3.6 percent last year and South Korea’s jobless rate for those 15-29 years old was 7.3 percent in July, more than double the national average of 3.1 percent.

Park, who became acting first lady at 22 after her mother was killed in a bungled North Korean assassination attempt on Park Chung Hee, has softened her support of her father’s export-led growth policies. As demand falls in Europe and slows economic growth and exports, she has pledged to broaden welfare and offer subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs.

Changing Stance

The NFP in January changed its name and announced a less hardline stance on totalitarian North Korea, which has shown no sign of abandoning its nuclear weapons program since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il as leader in December. South and North Korea technically remain at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Park said today she would work toward building “a new framework for sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula.”

She has promised to run a transparent government, building on the popularity she gained for leading the NFP to an unexpected win in the April parliamentary election. Party members including Lee’s elder brother and the speaker of the National Assembly have been prosecuted on bribery allegations.

Park’s rivals may include Ahn, the chairman of anti-virus software maker Ahnlab Inc., whose business success and donations to charity have won him support from younger voters, and Moon Jae In, a human-rights lawyer with the opposition Democratic United Party who was jailed in 1975 for taking part in street protests against the rule of Park’s father.

Youth Turnout

Opposition parties tend to perform better when there is greater youth turnout, the National Election Commission said in a report that analyzed the April 2012 parliamentary vote.

Ahn closely trails Park in public opinion surveys. The one-time medical doctor-turned CEO briefly overtook Park last month, boosted by a spike in support after a July 23 television interview in which he expressed his interest in running for president, and the July 19 publication of his book “Ahn Cheol Soo’s Thoughts.” He hasn’t made any public appearances since.

Park’s support fell 1.3 percentage points to 35.9 percent, according to a Realmeter poll published today. Ahn’s support fell 0.5 points to 31 percent, while’s Moon’s stood at 11.3 percent, up one percent. Seoul-based Realmeter surveyed 3,000 people from Aug. 13-17 and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.