Park Geun-hye spent part of her childhood in South Korea’s presidential palace, raised by an autocratic father who seized power in a military coup 51 years ago. She returns now as the democratically elected president of a nation concerned about its slowing economy and mounting social problems. With her narrow victory in Wednesday’s election, Park, 60, becomes an unlikely leader: She’s the first female president in a nation dominated by men, and she’s a conservative selected by voters to address their largely left-leaning wishes, including greater engagement with North Korea and a major expansion of government welfare spending.
She was also elected because she convinced South Korean voters that she could heal some of the scars of her father’s 18-year rule — a period of hypercharged economic growth, but also one in which dissenters were tortured, jailed and sometimes killed.
In a race that wasn’t decided until after several hours of vote counting, Park edged out former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in, who conceded just before midnight local time. With the ballots counted Thursday morning, Park had received 51.6 percent of the total, compared with Moon’s 48 percent.
“I believe the nation’s passion to overcome crisis and revive the economy has brought this victory,” Park said during a late-night victory speech in downtown Seoul. “I will not forget your trust in me.”