South Korea’s president-elect, Park Geun-hye, called for national reconciliationon Thursday and met with foreign envoys in Seoul, a day after she was elected the country’s first female leader in a close contest that reflected generational and regional divides and growing unease over North Korea’s military threat. Ms. Park, 60, the daughter of South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator, won 51.6 percent of the votes cast on Wednesday to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak, who was barred by law from seeking a second term. “I will reflect various opinions of the people, whether they have supported or opposed me,” Ms. Park said in a speech Thursday. She pledged “impartiality,” “national harmony” and “reconciliation,” saying she would bring people into her government “regardless of their regional background, gender and generation.”
South Koreans have started casting their votes in a potentially historic presidential election that could result in Asia’s fourth-largest economy getting its first female leader. Polling stations opened on Tuesday, with polls showing a tight race between ruling conservative party candidate Park Geun-Hye and her liberal rival from the main opposition party, Moon Jae-In. The booths were schedule to close at 6pm with a national holiday declared to allow maximum turnout among the country’s more than 40 million registered voters.
The voter turnout for this year’s president race is expected to hover around 70 percent, the country’s National Election Commission (NEC) said Tuesday. The prediction by the state election watchdog comes a day before people cast their votes to pick the country’s next chief executive and is based on a nationwide poll it commissioned earlier in the month. The survey of 1,500 people by local pollster Korea Research Center showed 79.9 percent claiming they will definitely vote.
2012 will end with Japan and Korea both choosing new governments as the leadership on Asia policy changes at the State Department. All three transitions could have an impact on the president’s vaunted pivot to Asia. In Japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just walloped the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) at the polls. On the one hand, this is nothing new. The last three Japanese elections (2005, 2009 and 2012) ended with lopsided victories as the frustrated Japanese electorate searched for leadership to get them out of their current doldrums. With the election of Shinzo Abe, however, the Western media and the left have hit general quarters. Time Magazine predicts dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia; the folks at Foreign Policy have featured analysis warning Japan could go nuclear; and within some quarters of the administration there is nervous chatter about whether Tokyo might provoke China too much.
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.
Absentee voting for South Korea’s presidential election kicked off Thursday, with each competing camp claiming that the uncertainty surrounding North Korea’s long-range rocket launch will sway voters to their side. With the main election just six days away, voting began at 6 a.m. at polling stations nationwide. A record 1.09 million voters have registered to cast their ballots during the two-day absentee voting period that ends at 4 p.m. Friday, the National Election Commission said. The vote comes a day after North Korea launched a three-stage long-range rocket in defiance of international warnings and successfully put a satellite into orbit.
When North Korea revealed its plans to launch a rocket this month, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak accused Pyongyang of trying to interfere in his country’s December 19 presidential election. But it is not clear how Wednesday’s apparently successful launch will affect the result of the poll, or the victor’s policy towards North Korea. The two leading contenders, Park Geun-hye of Mr Lee’s conservative New Frontier party, and Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic United party, have both vowed to pursue fresh negotiations with North Korea if elected. While each condemned the rocket launch as a threat to international security, neither gave any indication of reduced willingness to push for talks aimed at economic co-operation and eventual reunification.
When the popular independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo pulled out of South Korea’s presidential contest last month, he completely changed the odds in a race that might have marked a new phase in the country’s history. Now only two candidates are still in the running, representing the main conservative and progressive camps, which have been squabbling over power since the end of the dictatorship in the late 1980s. On the right is Park Geun-hye, 60, standing for the ruling New Frontier party, and on the centre-left Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United party.
South Korea’s two main presidential hopefuls are running neck and neck with the election barely a month away, the latest polls showed after a popular independent candidate bowed out of the race. The latest survey was released as the candidates, including the daughter of former military ruler Park Chung-hee, officially begin campaigning on Tuesday. Election is set on December 19.