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(News Focus) Past legacy helps and hinders Park's bid for first female president
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- Park Geun-hye, the leader in South Korea's presidential race, has a double-edged asset that has been both an important source of her popularity and made her a target of criticism -- her father, the late President Park Chung-hee, and his 18-year authoritarian rule.

   On Tuesday, Park officially announced her long-anticipated bid to become South Korea's first female president, and how she handles the legacy of her father is expected to affect her second bid for the top office.

   Park tasted politics while still in her 20s when she served as acting first lady after her mother, Yook Young-su, was killed in a bungled attempt to assassinate her father by a pro-Pyongyang ethnic-Korean man from Japan in 1974.


Park's father was gunned down by his intelligence chief in 1979.

   Her family history is somewhat similar to those of other female Asian leaders who rose to power or became high-profile politicians in recent decades after their family members were assassinated.

   Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament in April after spending much of the past two decades under house arrest. Her father Aung San was killed by rivals in 1947.

   Park's presidential bid, the second of its kind, has triggered attacks by political rivals who claim it is "premature" for South Korea to have a female president at a time when North Korea still poses a threat with its nuclear and missile programs.

   The highest political job a woman has held in South Korea thus far was as prime minister, in 2006.

   One of Park's political rivals also questioned her leadership ability, citing both her gender and her lack of military experience, a mandatory duty for all healthy South Korean men.

   On Tuesday, she said being a woman "could be a plus" for a leader as she unveiled a set of campaign commitments.


Park's aides have also insisted she has what it takes to become the military commander-in-chief as security issues has long been ingrained in her mind.

   When Park, then 27, was woken at night in 1979 by a presidential chief of staff and told her father had been killed, she asked if everything was OK at the heavily fortified border with North Korea, according to her aides.

   The 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war. North Korea has a track record of provocations, including a failed assassination attempt on Park's father in 1968 when 31 North Koreans commandos infiltrated near the presidential office.

   Park told hundreds of her supporters she would seek stable inter-Korean ties and create conditions to ensure North Korea will become a responsible member of the international community.

   Park also said she would "strengthen efforts for progress" in ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but she did not elaborate further.

   North Korea quit the nuclear talks in 2009 and has since threatened to attack South Korea and to boost its nuclear deterrent force. The six-party talks included both Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

   Park visited North Korea in 2002 and met with then leader Kim Jong-il to discuss how to bring peace to the divided Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-il died in December and was succeeded by his youngest son Kim Jong-un.

   Park said she would revitalize the economy by guaranteeing legitimate business operations and lifting unnecessary regulations, though she vowed to ensure that large corporations assume social responsibility.

   She also said job creation would be a key agenda item, adding she would help strengthen domestic consumption and exports, which would in turn push economic growth.

   South Korea has been largely dependent on exports to fuel its economic growth in a model laid out by Park's father, whose legacy still divides South Korea.

   Some credited Park's father with rebuilding South Korea from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War, while others accused him of violating human rights and clamping down on democracy during his authoritarian rule. South Korea has now become a full-fledged democracy and an economic powerhouse.

   South Korea's nominal gross national income amounted to 1,241 trillion won (US$1.08 trillion) last year, compared with North Korea's 32.4 trillion won, according to South Korea's central bank.