South Korea Elects First Female President

South Korea will have its first woman president with the election of Park Geun-hye after a very tight election. With most of the votes counted, Park was elected with a small majority over her liberal opponent. Park's father was the country's military dictator for 18 years.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

South Korea has elected its first female president. She's the daughter of a Cold War era military dictator, and she saved the ruling party from defeat despite widespread dissatisfaction with her predecessor.

Her secret, as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, she moved to the middle.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Crowds packed a chilly downtown plaza to cheer for 60-year-old Park Geun-hye. Park took roughly 52 percent of the vote, about four percent more than opposition candidate, Moon Jae-in.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

PRESIDENT-ELECT PARK GEUN-HYE: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: This is the triumph for the people's desire to overcome crisis and to rescue the economy, she told the crowds. From now on, she added, I will be a president that keeps the promises I made to you and ushers in a new era of happiness.

Park successfully distanced herself from the unpopular outgoing President Lee Myung Bak. She changed the ruling party's name and pledged to strengthen the country's social safety net to minimize the impact of South Korea's slowing economic growth. She also apologized for human rights abuses committed by her late father, President Park Chung-hee, during his 18-year rule.

Her opponent, Moon Jae-in, did well with younger voters who have no memory of the rapid economic growth under Park Chung-hee, but it wasn't enough.

MOON JAE-IN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: I accept defeat, Moon told his supporters. But it is my own failure, not the failure of those who want a new style of politics.

Many South Koreans feel the previous administration's hard line stance against North Korea backfired. And so, both Park and Moon, advocate more dialogue and engagement with the North. North Korea has yet to respond to Park's victory but they have commented before that they don't see any real difference between Ms. Park and her predecessor.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

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