The Power Players

Park Geun-hye

image: Uniphoto Press By: The Diplomat

A survey by Korean news magazine Sisa said she is the second most influential political figure in the country, behind only President Lee Myung-bak, and despite her narrowly losing out to Lee in the 2007 presidential election, many see Park Geun-hye as a future leader.

The conservative Park has a background steeped in politics—her father was president from 1963-79 before being assassinated and she has served as chairwoman of the ruling Grand National Party. She was also seen as the country’s unofficial first lady for five years after her mother was assassinated in 1974.

While campaigning in 2006, Park was attacked by a man brandishing a small knife and she received a 11-centimeter wound to her face. But she managed to turn the attack to her political advantage, with many voters apparently won over by her resilience following the incident.

Park’s public profile was boosted further in 2008 with her prominent role as a special envoy for then President-elect Lee Myung-bak which included a visit to China, and she has continued her globe-trotting as the president’s representative with a visit to Europe this year.

Lee, meanwhile, is under pressure to follow through on a campaign pledge to make Park, leader of a powerful faction within the governing party, a full partner in the national government in exchange for her support during the election. It’s all good news for Park, who can also look forward to benefits stemming from the recent growing political clout of women in Korean politics.