Park Geun Hye, whose father ruled South Korea as dictator for 18 years, said she will run in December’s presidential election in a bid to become the country’s first female leader.
Park, 60, made her declaration today in a televised speech to a crowd at an outdoor shopping mall in Seoul. The leader in opinion polls for the last three months, she will compete with fellow ruling New Frontier Party lawmakers for the nomination at an Aug. 20 party primary to succeed President Lee Myung Bak.
“We need fundamental change,” Park said at the rally. “In the past, national development led to people’s happiness but now the link between national growth and improvement in people’s lives has been severed.”
The NFP retained control of parliament in an upset win in April engineered by Park, giving her and the party momentum heading into the presidential race. Lee’s approval rating has more than halved since taking office, and his successor faces pressure to raise wages and increase welfare spending.
The veteran politician’s greatest asset is her background as the eldest daughter of late President Park Chung Hee, who oversaw the country’s economic transformation during his 1961-1979 military dictatorship. She served as acting first lady starting at 22 years old after her mother was assassinated.
Park has indicated she might veer from her conservative party’s economic policies in response to growing dissatisfaction over rising income disparity and youth unemployment. Today, she listed her top priorities as overcoming the wealth gap, creating jobs and strengthening the welfare system.
The nation’s top 20 percent earned 7.86 times more than those in the bottom 20 percent last year, the biggest gap since 2006 when Statistics Korea began to survey household income by five brackets. The ratio has continued to rise from 6.65 in 2006, according to the Statistics Korea database.
At the same time, income disparity, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has been going up since 2009 when it reached the average for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The share of population living on less than half of the median income rose to 15 percent by 2008, the seventh- highest in the OECD area.
Park’s main rivals are expected to be Moon Jae In, a human- rights lawyer with the opposition Democratic United Party who was jailed in 1975 for participating in street protests against the elder Park’s rule, and software magnate Ahn Cheol Soo, an independent whose business success and donations to charity have won him support from younger voters. Moon declared his candidacy on June 18. Ahn has yet to declare.
Park’s popularity stands at 40.9 percent versus Ahn’s 20.6 percent and Moon’s 15.6 percent, according to a July 2-6 survey of 3,750 people by Seoul-based Realmeter. The telephone poll had a margin of error plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
Her party has struggled to overcome a series of scandals, including a bribery investigation that forced the resignation of the speaker of the National Assembly. Prosecutors questioned Lee’s brother, Lee Sang Deuk, last week under an investigation into a savings bank bribery case that resulted in indictments of almost 200 people.
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