Asia

Profile: South Korean President Park Geun-hye

  • 25 November 2016
  • From the section Asia
Park Geun-hye attends a national convention of the ruling Saenuri Party in Goyang, north of Seoul, South Korea 20 August 2012. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms Park is the daughter of former strongman leader Park Chung-hee

In just four years South Korea's president Park Geun-hye has gone from being a trailblazer to a figure of controversy linked to a deepening corruption scandal.

An angered Korean public has called for her resignation and she may now face impeachment.

Her current unpopularity stands in stark contrast to the start of her term in 2012. In a tight presidential race, she beat Moon Jae-in to became the country's first female leader.

It was a notable achievement given that South Korea had the highest level of gender inequality in the developed world.

Political blue-blood

Ms Park was no stranger to the presidential house when she took office. She is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, a controversial strongman leader.

When her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974, Ms Park served as the country's first lady at the age of 22. Five years later, her father was assassinated.

Some said the association with her father - and her experience as first lady - helped cement her win by overcoming prejudices among male voters.

Ms Park's personal history is now under public scrutiny again with the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante, who is being investigated for corruption.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The two women have known each other since the 1970s

Prosecutors say Ms Park has a role in the corruption, which her office has strongly denied.

But Ms Park has admitted that she gave Ms Choi inappropriate access to government decision-making, and has apologised for it.

The two women's relationship stretches back to the 1970s when Ms Choi's father, the shadowy quasi-religious figure Choi Tae-min, befriended Ms Park's family.

Read more: What is South Korea's presidential scandal?

Read more: The friendship behind the presidential crisis

Mixed legacy

Ms Park is not married, something that has raised questions in South Korea's conservative society, and is seen as a private individual.

She holds an engineering degree from Sogang University in Seoul and was first elected to South Korea's National Assembly in 1998.

She sought the presidency in 2007, but her Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, instead nominated Lee Myung-bak, who went on to win.

When she took office Ms Park vowed to improve the economy by boosting creativity and entrepreneurship, but has struggled to push through reforms amid economic scandals.

She also promised to work on "national reconciliation" with North Korea, but vowed she would not tolerate any action that threatened national security, and said the South must present a "strong deterrent" to the North.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The North has conducted several missile launches during Ms Park's term so far

Both sides have taken small steps towards engagement, such as holding reunions of separated Korean families. But relations on the whole remain rocky.

The North has pressed ahead with its nuclear programme, conducting three nuclear weapons tests and several missile launches during her term so far. Each incident was accompanied by a flare-up in tensions.

Ms Park's government has also been blamed for systemic lapses that led to the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014, which she has sought to fix.

None of the past criticism however can compare to the depth of public animosity she now faces over the corruption scandal, and it remains to be seen if she can survive it.