Asia

Profile: South Korean President Park Geun-hye

  • 10 March 2017
  • From the section Asia
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye makes a speech during an address to the nation, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on 29 November 2016. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Park is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee

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

An angered Korean public called for her resignation and she has now been removed from office after the supreme court backed a parliamentary vote of impeachment.

Her 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.

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

When her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974, Ms Park served as 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.

But Ms Park's personal history fell under public scrutiny again with the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante.

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

But in 2016, allegations began emerging that Ms Choi was being given inappropriate access to government decision-making, including editing some of Ms Park's speeches.

Ms Choi was later accused of using her friendship to pressure some of South Korea's biggest companies into paying money into charitable foundations she ran, in exchange for securing favourable treatment from the government.

Ms Choi is now on trial on a string of corruption charges, as is the de facto head of Samsung, one of the companies allegedly involved.

Ms Park, who is accused of colluding with her friend, was impeached by parliament in December. The verdict was upheld on 10 March, meaning she could now face prosecution.

Everyone involved has apologised but consistently denied wrongdoing.

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.

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

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.

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.

Related Topics