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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
S Korean famous daughter aims high
By Charles Scanlon
BBC News, Seoul

Being the daughter of a former leader has proved an unbeatable political asset in many parts of Asia, from the Philippines and Indonesia to India and Pakistan.

Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of the main opposition Grand National Party, smiles while she watches a live televised newscast, reporting election update at the party's headquarter in Seoul, May 31, 2006.
Park Geun-hye is preparing for next year's presidential race

Now the daughter of the former South Korean military dictator, Park Chung-hee, is setting her sights on the presidency of the continent's fourth largest economy.

As chair of the Grand National Party, Park Geun-hye led conservative forces to a crushing victory over the ruling Uri party in local and regional elections last week.

She proved her resolve, and won over some sceptics, with a steely response to a savage knife attack during a campaign rally, which left her with an 11cm (four inch) gash on her face that required 60 stitches.

"She was so stable and calm," said political analyst Hahm Sang-dok of Korea University. "We have a traditional view in this country that women are weak but she proved her ability to handle an unexpected crisis."

Just 10 days after being slashed with a box cutter by a deranged man, Miss Park returned to the campaign trail and helped ensure the rout of the ruling party, which won only one of 16 major cities and provinces up for grabs.

Her response reminded many of her father, who famously finished a speech after his wife - and Miss Park's mother - was shot dead by an assassin's bullet during an Independence Day rally in 1974.

President Park was himself shot dead five years later in 1979 by his spy chief as he clung to autocratic rule in the face of a growing democracy movement.

'Old fashioned'

Park Geun-hye is not advocating a return to dictatorship, but acquaintances say she is very conservative and troubled by the left wing turn of Korean politics in recent years.

Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of the Grand National Party, is attacked by an assailant with a box cutter during a campaign for the upcoming local elections in Seoul, Saturday, May 20, 2006
Miss Park's response to being stabbed won her sympathy

She wants to strengthen the increasingly rickety alliance with the United States and stress economic growth over redistribution.

"She still has the image of the dictator's daughter to me," said office worker Hong Soo-kyung, "there's rather an old-fashioned feel about her."

Liberals and leftists, who recall the bitter struggles with her father, will not be won over.

But many younger Koreans are attracted by Park Geun-hye's calm dignity - and her image as a newcomer untainted by scandal.

"She's proved highly effective on the campaign trail. She has better name recognition than other conservative leaders, and most people now see her in her own right - distinct from her father," said Professor Hahm of Korea University.

The conservatives' recent electoral success will boost her chances of winning the hotly contended nomination as presidential candidate for the Grand National Party. After two successive defeats, the party is desperate for victory in next year's election.

Park Chung-hee, 1965
Miss Park's father's legacy may prove a mixed blessing

But she still faces formidable rivals inside the party.

Despite her conservative convictions, Park Geun-hye, has shown herself to be pragmatic and flexible on policy towards North Korea.

She favours reconciliation and economic co-operation with the North - in contrast to others in her party who want a less indulgent approach.

In 2002, she travelled to Pyongyang to meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. By all accounts they got on well.

Both are the offspring of ruthless charismatic figures who built the two Korean states in their own image: a hard driving economic power house that still confronts the world's most absolute and resilient totalitarian state.

S Korea party boss quits for poll
01 Jun 06 |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea leader reshuffles cabinet
02 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Roh calls for calm over N Korea
25 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: South Korea
20 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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