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(News Focus) (Election) S. Korea's first woman president to face daunting tasks
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- Park Geun-hye, the conservative daughter of a late former president, has made history by becoming South Korea's first female president, but she is expected to grapple with a long list of tough issues ranging from reviving the sluggish economy to mending relations with North Korea.

   Before formally taking office in February, Park is likely to focus on forming a government of national unity as her historic win in the presidential election came after a neck-and-neck race with the opposition's candidate, Moon Jae-in. The final turnout is estimated at about 76 percent of eligible voters.

   During her campaign trail, the 60-year-old Park, who touts herself as a person of "trust" and "principle," said she will "devote my heart and soul to building a Korea without separating people into groups and demagoguing them."

   As part of her efforts to overcome the past of her father -- the former president Park Chung-hee who ruled South Korea for 18 years after taking power in a 1961 military coup -- she has apologized for human rights abuses committed during her father's rule.


"In the shadows of Korea's rapid growth there was pain, suffering and irregularities as well as various human rights abuses committed by authorities," she told reporters in September.

   In South Korea, the legacy of the former president Park is still controversial with supporters considering him as a leader who modernized South Korea, while opponents regard him as an authoritarian ruler who sacrificed democracy and the personal freedoms of the citizens at the expense of economic development.

   Economy was one of main issues in the presidential election and President-elect Park will be tasked with reviving the South Korean economy, despite global economic woes.

   South Korea's export-driven economy, Asia's fourth-largest, grew at the slowest pace in more than three years in the third quarter of the year and is on track to miss the Bank of Korea's 2.4 percent growth estimate for all of 2012.

   With her pledge of "economic democratization," Park has promised to curb the power of the nation's family-controlled business conglomerates, called chaebol, but warned against excessive regulations. She also backed tax cuts for businesses to boost investment and create jobs.

   On North Korea, Park has signaled her intention to more actively engage with the unpredictable regime than the incumbent President Lee Myung-bak did.

   "As one Korean proverb goes, one-handed applause is impossible. By the same token, peace between the two Koreas will not be possible without a combined effort," Park said in her contributing article to the Foreign Affairs magazine.

   "For more than half a century, North Korea has blatantly disregarded international norms. But even if Seoul must respond forcefully to Pyongyang's provocations, it must also remain open to new opportunities for improving relations between the two sides," said Park, whose mother was assassinated in 1974 by a North Korean agent who was unsuccessfully targeting her father.

   During the five-year term of Lee, North Korea carried out a long-range missile launch and a second nuclear test in 2009, and mounted two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 -- the sinking of a warship in waters near the western sea border in March and the shelling of a border island in November.

   This month, North Korea conducted a largely successful launch of a long-range rocket, condemned by the U.N. Security Council for violating U.N. resolutions that ban the North from conducting any ballistic missile-related tests.

   "Despite the North's rocket launch that put a satellite into orbit, I think we are going to see a major new engagement effort in 2013 regardless of who wins in South Korea," James Schoff, a senior associate in the Carnegie Asia Program, said before Wednesday's election results.

   "Pyongyang's actions should certainly be condemned, but the international community is doing itself a disservice if it pushes the young leader Kim Jong-un to find another way to demonstrate his power domestically, like another nuclear test," Schoff said in a blog post.

   Many analysts have agreed that the United States would be more comfortable with a Park presidency, but the lockstep alliance between Seoul and Washington may take some adjustment as Park is expected to take a more conciliatory approach with Pyongyang.

   "Washington will need to make less of an adjustment with Park. While Park has indicated that she will take a more conciliatory approach with North Korea, the United States is comfortable that Park will increase engagement at a slower pace," Schoff said.