On December 19, 2012, Ms. Park Geun-hye not only won the 18th presidential election of South Korea, but also won the following record-breaking titles: Ms. Park will be the first female president of South Korea, the first president to win by majority vote since 1987, the first president to have majored in engineering, and the first single president. Moreover, this election was significant in that voter turnout was as high as 75.8%. Voter turnout in Korea had been declining since the 13th presidential election in 1987, hitting a low of 63.0% in the 2007 presidential election that elected the current president, Mr. Lee Myung-bak. What triggered South Koreans, who have grown apolitical due to plutocracy and favoritism, to vote this time?
The First Hee: Redeeming the Good Old Days, President Park Chung-hee
Ms. Park Geun-hye is the daughter of former South Korean president, Mr. Park Chung-hee. Mr. Park had been the leader of South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He rose to power through a coup d'état and solidified his authority by declaring martial law and establishing the Yushin Constitution. At the same time, he led South Korea to the path of modernization and industrialization, producing the so-called ‘Miracle on the Han River.’ History draws very different judgments of Park. While those leaning to the right revere him as an excellent president who made South Korea into what it is today, members of the left wing condemn him as a ruthless dictator. Naturally, supporters of Ms. Park are those who supported her father, remembering the prosperous times ushered in by Park’s pro-business policies. Opposition is filled with anti-Mr. Park politicians. The daughter of President Park Chung-hee, the godfather of Korean conservatism, exposed the old enmity between right and left
The Second Hee: “I am running for the office just to make sure Ms. Park loses,” Lee Jung-hee
Those who have watched the South Korean presidential debate are familiar with a freshly-coined word, ‘meteor strike.’ This buzzword was coined after former presidential candidate Lee Jung-hee’s verbal attack on Ms. Park. Lee, who was a candidate for the United Progressive Party, harshly criticized Ms. Park, referring to Park as the ‘first lady of Yushin dictatorship,’ which alluded to Park’s dictatorial father. When asked why she was running for the presidency, Lee said with a smile, “I am running for the office just to make sure Ms. Park loses.” Lee continued to attack Ms. Park on tax and inheritance issues and also on late president Park’s history, which bordered defamation.
Contrary to Lee’s intention, her vituperation helped Ms. Park win the election. Numerous people from older generations, who sympathize with Park Chung-hee, were infuriated by Lee’s spiteful remarks—even the progressives were uncomfortable with Lee’s extreme-left position. Lee’s behavior resulted in a mass mobilization of conservative people, who were convinced that Ms. Park was the only reliable leader for the country’s future.
North Korea on the Table
One of the chronic problems of Korean politics is its notorious regionalism tied with the left-right spectrum. Voters in Gyeongsang Province and Daegu Metropolitan City, the hometown of the Park family, identify themselves with the conservative Saenuri Party. Those in Jeolla Province support the progressive Democratic United Party. Geographical distribution of votes won by each party has been highly uneven, and this year was not an exception. Figures are more than shocking: In Gyeongsang-bukdo, 81% voted for Saenuri Pary and 19% for Democratic United Party. This contrast was even more pronounced in Gwangju, a city in Jeolla Province, where 92% voted for Democratic United Party and only 8% casted their votes for Saenuri Party. Interestingly enough, the geographical locations of Gyeongsang and Jeolla happen to represent the political ideology of its people: Gyeongsang on the right, Jeolla on the left. Extremely uneven numbers suggest that voters vote over party preference instead of each candidate’s pledges.
Politicians often take advantage of this polarization, which aggravates regionalism and partisan politics. Partisan politics is a foe to many countries, but it is especially detrimental in the Korean peninsula. This is because Korea is a divided country. In 1948, Korea was divided into North and South due to differences in ideology. Since then, left and right confrontation became endemic to the split peninsula, and tensions remain today, heightened by North Korea’s nuclear experiments. Partisan politics provide a pretext for North Korea to meddle in South Korean politics. Aware of this fact, politicians in South Korea often accuse each other to justify their propagandas. For example, some leftist politicians were severely criticized for using the term, ‘Southern government,’ in referring to the government of Republic of Korea. Members of the right wing named these politicians ‘Jongbuk,’ meaning ‘worshipping North Korean ideology.’ In protest, leftist camp rebuked the right’s accusation as witch-hunting, and labeled them as pro-America and pro-Japan traitors. All these attacks are highly dangerous, as divisions within South Korean politicians will provide an opportunity for North Korea to drive a wedge between the two.
Will Ms. Park Truly Break the Record?
Ms. Park certainly broke some impressive records by winning the election. But will she break the truly meaningful record? So far, no president has defeated the long history of shameful and immature partisan politics. Only when Ms. Park succeeds in promoting national reconciliation and harmony will she be an honored record-breaker.
There is a number joke among the people in South Korea:
“President Park seized power on 5.16, and after 51 years and 6 months, daughter Park won the election with 51.6%. President Park reigned for 18 years; Ms. Park was elected as the 18th President of South Korea. So she is meant to be.”
Is she meant to be?
The answer to this question will depend on whether Ms. Park can bring mutual cooperation to the Blue House or not.
 Park Chung-hee, the former president, and Lee Jung-hee, the former presidential candidate.
 Ms. Park Geun Hae served as the first lady during 1974-1979 after her mother was assassinated by a North Korean assassin.
 Normally, politicians in Korea would say ‘our government’ to refer to their own government. ‘Southern government’ implies the viewpoint from North Korean government.
 May 16th, 1961
foyak, . "2012 Presidential Election Poll Analysis." PIANO BLACK. N.p., n. d. Web. Web. 2 Feb. 2013. <http://pauillac.tistory.com/4>.
Yoon, Dong-bin. "United Progressive Party uses the term 'Southern Government' again ." Chosun.com. n.d. n. page. Web. 2 Feb. 2013. <http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2013/01/03/2013010300392.html>.
bullnose, . "Park Geun-hye as the 18th president, what could it mean?." Like Wind . N.p., n. d. Web. Web. 2 Feb. 2013. <http://blog.naver.com/bullnose?Redirect=Log&logNo=10155058317>.
"5060 Anxiety...Lee's vituperation was the cause."Chosun.com . n.d. n. page. Web. 2 Feb. 2013. <http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2012/12/21/2012122100183.html>.
"18th Presidential Election Voter Turnout predicted to be 75.8%." dongA.com . n.d. n. page. Print. <http://news.donga.com/3/all/20121219/51719678/1>.