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South Korea elects its first woman president, Park Geun-hye

Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye has made history by winning South Korea's presidential election, becoming the country's first female president-elect after defeating her liberal rival.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / December 19, 2012

Conservative candidate Park Geun-Hye waves to supporters after arriving at her party headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Kim Jae-Hwan/AP

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Seoul, South Korea

Park Geun-hye won a decisive victory Wednesday after a bitterly fought election for president of South Korea in which she overcame criticism of her legacy as the daughter of long-ruling dictator Park Chung-hee. In so doing, she also overcame traditional barriers to women in government and business to become the first woman to win her country's presidency.  

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With nearly all votes counted, and a commanding 3.6 percentage point lead over liberal candidate Moon Jae-in, Ms. Park entered her party headquarters to loud cheers from conservative party leaders and thanked them for all their "effort and time" – and for turning out in freezing temperatures. Next, she climbed into her limousine and headed to central Seoul, where thousands cheered her for winning an election that many analysts said would end in a virtual dead heat.

Under the glare of huge spotlights in front of the palace of bygone Korean kings, Park vowed to be a “president of the people” and to keep her promise to reinvigorate a stagnating economy and fight for reunification with North Korea.

“I’m going to make this happen,” she said amid the din of cheers.

Far from eking out a marginal victory, Park maintained an unexpectedly high lead as returns poured in from ballots cast by more than 25 million people. Nearly 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls –  more than expected – in what many saw as a test of support for conservative economic policies and a firm stance against North Korea.

“She’s the right person [to] overcome these difficulties,” says Hwang Jin-ha, a retired Army general and member of the National Assembly from the conservative Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, headed by Park. That remark reflects concerns not only about the economy, but also about North Korea in the aftermath of the launching a week ago of a rocket that put a satellite into orbit.

“She would talk with North Korea but with conditions," says Mr. Hwang, meaning that she would demand the North get rid of its missile and nuclear program.

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