The Coup that Started it All
Park Geun-hye is the eldest child of Park Chung-hee and Yuk Young-soo. She was born on 2 February 1952 in Daegu. Two more kids were added to their family after her, a boy named Park Ji-man and a girl named Park Seoyeong. Although born in Samdeok-dong of Jung-gu in Daegu, Geun-hye only got to stay there for a year following her birth. The whole family relocated to Seoul in 1953.
She would later on attend Seoul's Jangchung Elementary School and complete her middle school and high school studies at Sungshim (Sacred Heart in English) Girls' Middle and High School in 1970. Many events unfolded between her time attending middle school and high school, turning her life upside down.
Chung-hee, her father, used to be a simple teacher prior to becoming a military man. When Geun-hye was eleven years old, a pivotal uprising changed the lives of the Korean people, especially hers. In 1961, a coup d’état resulted in his father’s political affiliation, being appointed Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army and the deputy commander of the Second Army the year before. After the April 19 Movement, the first South Korean President, Syngman Rhee, was forced out of his office by a student-led revolt. With the presidential authority possessed by Prime Minister Chang Myon despite the acting figurehead Yun Bo-seon's presence, it sparked conflicts within the newly installed democratic government. Ousting Syngman was only the tip of the iceberg. The people are facing the repercussion of his corrupt leadership and their morale was in shambles. The bickering among the government officials only worsened their plight and kept them from moving forward.
Desperate times call for desperate measure. Then-Major-General Park Chung-hee formed the Military Revolutionary Committee that led a military coup on May 16 1971. The Yu government was not able to do anything to keep authority in their hands. Chung-hee headed the interim government that gave birth to the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction. A promotion awaited Chung-hee following the widely-supported military uprising. He briefly assumed presidential office but later on bequeathed authority back to the people. The 1963 elections gave Chung-hee the legitimate right to lead Korea as its third president.
Geun-hye was in the sidelines while all that was happening. Only 11 years old then, she has to grow up ahead of her years to cope with what was asked of her after her father assumed the highest political seat in the government. Her mother would be known as the most loved First Lady of Korea since then because of her way with people. Young-soo was a devout Buddhist and in a country like Korea that is predominantly a Buddhist nation, her presence in Chung-hee’s governance and her family provided the balance they needed.
Her Mother’s Assassination
Geun-hye’s life went on with the weight of her father’s tremendous responsibility looming over them. She decided to enroll in the University of Seaugang in Seoul and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in engineering in 1974. She would have gone on to have a life and career of her own now that she was a title holder and in fact left for France for further studies. But she was asked to come home when her mother was hit by a bullet intended for her father in the same year she graduated from the university. The assassin was later on identified as Mun Segwang, a Japanese-born North Korean dissident. Geun-hye was only 22 years old then. She washed her mother’s bloodstained dress herself and no one really knows how she was able to go through that dark phase in her life without showing her real grief in public. Geun-hye is known for being a private person, but her mother’s death thrust her into the world of politics without warning.
Becoming Korea’s First Lady in Her Early Twenties
Much to the people’s surprise, Geun-hye gracefully fulfilled her duty—welcoming dignitaries and providing the balance in his father’s governance. Her mother’s assassination only toughened up her father. A few years prior Young-soo’s death, Chung-hee won the 1967 national elections and promised to step down as president in 1971 as the 1963 Constitution limits presidents to only serve a maximum of two terms. His promise did not go into fruition after his Democratic Republican Party and dominated the National Assembly of South Korea successfully revised the constitution to allow incumbent heads of state to run for office for three consecutive terms. The following election was again won by Chung-hee in 1971, inspired by a known dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos Marcos of the Republic of the Philippines. Then the infamous Yushin Constitution went underway the following year. By this time, Chung-hee's image was deteriorating.
The death of his wife fired up Chung-hee’s conviction. Little did he know that his authority would soon end in yet another tragic event.
Her Father’s Assassination
It was like deja-vu for Geun-hye when news about her father’s death reached her. Her mother’s death was still fresh in her mind but now she has to contend with losing her remaining parent. She wasn’t ready for another death yet. Chung-hee was killed by a trusted ally, Kim Jae-kyu, after a banquet held at a safe house. Jae-kyu and his cohorts killed five more people—Chung-hee’s chief bodyguard and four presidential guards. Fortunately, they were arrested and Jae-kyu was executed by hanging in 1980.
Geun-hye, now an orphan, went on a hiatus and spent 19 years studying spiritual texts and helping a charitable institution. She led a low-key life after the death of both of her parents. It was said that she went to live in their home in Seoul after leaving the Blue House, Korea’s presidential residence.
With her father brutally murdered by someone he thought was his friend and supporter, Geun-hye has every reason to despise betrayal. Her subsequent journal entries would reveal how she couldn’t stand treachery:
"There may be nothing sadder and more awful than one person betraying another. Once you’ve betrayed another’s trust and loyalty, the next betrayal becomes that much easier, until finally you’re living your whole life as someone who is not honorable to themselves." (Source: The Hankyoreh)
Although she has kept quiet after her father's death, she resurfaced, a strong and determined politician. She has this to say to those who criticized her father's governance:
“During the Yushin era, when my father was still alive, they were going around saying, ‘Yushin is the only path to survival!’ Their refusal to defend Yushin after he died - well, we can turn that around and say that the reason they were advocating Yushin back then is not because they actually believed in it, but because it was the only way they could hold high positions..." (Source: The Hankyoreh)
Geun-hye endured the loss of her parents privately. It did not help that her father was being defamed by the very people he trusted when he was still alive and in power. Perhaps one of the major reasons why Geun-hye opted to join politics was to prove to the people—especially those who betrayed her father—that Chung-hee is not the monster they are trying to make him out to be.
Back with a Vengeance: Elected Grand National Party (GNP) Assemblywoman
Almost two decades passed before the public sees Geun-hye back in public scrutiny. Truth is, she wasn’t only back as a bystander—she’s back for some action. Just like a tantalizing movie plot, only better, Geun-hye relished the attention given to her by the media. She was a living testimony that her father’s unjust death did not get Korea anywhere. Needless to say, Geun-hye did not only resurrect the ghosts of the past, she used them to leverage her political career.
Like her mother, Geun-hye is a public sweetheart. Although described by her aides as distant and unapproachable. Geun-hye had the charisma reminiscent of her father. Her smile and her appeal are her most potent arms for negotiation. She isn’t a political greenhorn, either. When Geun-hye entered Korean politics, she didn’t feel the need to adjust—she’s lived a politician’s life for as long as she could remember.
After winning three more elections as assemblywoman for Dalseong, Daegu, Geun-hye decided it was time to move up the political ladder. However, she was seen as a threat by her contemporaries and allies.
Queen of Elections
Due to the scandals plaguing the political milieu of 2002, the Grand National Party's name was dragged into bad publicity, hence resulting in the 2004 inevitable defeats. Geun-hye was at the helm of the party. Miraculously, they managed to get 121 seats despite suffering from unfavorable reputation. While she was GNP’s chairwoman, the party won every election from 2004 to 2006, earning her the moniker, “Queen of Elections.”
In 2006, Geun-hye was attacked and wounded by a notorious criminal. She sustained an 11-centimeter wound that's four inches deep. But Geun-hye does not make a big deal out of it as the campaign was much more important for her. She immediately resumes campaigning after days of surgery. The cut was deep and long enough to require 60 stitches. Not even a scar was left to remind her of the incident, but it added allure to her already glowing political name.
Unsuccessful Presidential Bid
At a time when gender discrimination is yet to be deposed in Korea, Geun-hye has earned the reverence of political leaders. She’s got the guts, the will, and the sharpness of a leader. Add to that her charisma, which makes her a perfect candidate for an ambitious post such as the presidential seat.
Even that wasn’t new to her having lived in the Blue House for nearly twenty years while her father was Korea’s president. It wasn’t surprising at all when she announced her interest in bidding for GNP’s backing for the 2007 presidential election. Much to her dismay, she lost to Lee Myung-bak who became South Korea’s president from 2008 to 2012.
Heading the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party
Contrary to what most supporters expected of Myung-bak’s governance, change was yet to take place. If anything, unrest was brewing beneath the seemingly placid political environment. When the GNP’s approval rating dwindled further, reaching a dismal figure, they decided to do an overhaul and changed its name to Saenuri Party in 2011 with Geun-hye on its lead.
She once again worked her magic and brought the Saenuri Party victory in the 2012 General Election, winning not only 155 seats but also snatching the majority position. By this time, Geun-hye’s political acumen became more apparent. To campaign for her party, she travelled miles and miles and went on with little sleep. Word has it that Geun-hye alternately used her left and right hands shaking hands with thousands of people during the campaign. She was often photographed with her hand bandaged.
One of the things that enthralled her supporters was her calmness. It was said that during a visit to the US, she was frisked because of the alarm going off as she passed the inspection radar in the airport. While her constituents got frustrated having to be held at the airport for so long, Geun-hye only said, “If that’s a rule, I’ll follow.”
That, among her many extraordinary attributes, endeared her to the public. None of her past mattered considering that her father was hailed by many as a dictator—not a very flattering adjective to describe Korea’s longest reigning president.
The First Woman President of South Korea and in Northeast Asia
Her 2012 Presidential run was almost arbitrary with the kind of popularity she was enjoying. She successfully won the 2012 elections against Seoul professor, Moon Jae-in. She was 61 years old when sworn in office last 25 February 2013. Due to her victory, women rejoiced. Korea remains to be biased when it comes to women handling major positions in the government. With Geun-hye as president, women are hoping to see a lot of change with the way things are run in their country.
According to Gateway to Korea,
“The administrative vision of President Park Geun-hye’s new government is "A new era of hope and happiness." The five Administrative Goals of the government are "a jobs-centered creative economy," "tailored employment and welfare," "creativity-oriented education and cultural enrichment," "a safe and united society" and "strong security measures for sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula." The Park Geun-hye administration plans to create a trustworthy, clean, and capable government through carrying out these goals, related strategies, and tasks.”
We are looking forward to seeing her nation prosper under her care not because we think it’s her duty to avenge her parents’ death. We believe that she will do everything she can based on what we know about her beliefs:
"The ultimate life we pursue will be accomplished when we live according to the word from heaven, participate in God’s business and do his work... Only God’s business is valuable, meaningful, and eternal among all other things happening in the world." (Source: The Hankyoreh)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Grand National Party (GNP) now Saenuri Party
- Korean National Assembly
- Pro-Park Coalition
- Solidarity for Pro-Park Independents
- Jeongsoo Scholarship Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 1998: Elected a Grand National Party (GNP) assemblywoman for Dalseong, Daegu
- 2011: Appointed as the chairwoman of GNP's Emergency Committee
- 2012: Elected president of the Republic of Korea
- 2012: Elected as a proportional representative
- 2013: Named one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World List
- 1987: Received honorary doctoral degree from the Chinese Culture University
- 2008: Received honorary doctoral degree from the Pukyong National University
- 2010: Received honorary doctoral degree from the Sogang University
Wikipedia (Park Geun-hye)
Time (The 2013 Time 100)
BBC News (South Korea election: Park Geun-hye defeats Moon Jae-in)
BBC News (Profile: South Korean President Park Geun-hye)
The Guardian (Park Geun-hye aims to become South Korea's first female president)
Business Insider (South Korean President Fires Spokesperson For Allegedly Molesting Intern During US Trip)
CSIS.org (South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s First Visit to Washington, D.C.)
Korea.net (President Park Geun-hye, Korea’s first female president)
Japan Times (No Abe-Park summit in G-20 cards)
The Hankyore (Park Geun-hye’s past and future)
The Korea Times (Atheist Park may have advantages)
Yonhap News (Park proposes Northeast Asia peace initiative in congressional speech)
The Washington Post (South Korean President Park Geun-hye answers questions)
Radio Free Asia (Interview: Stability Focus for China-South Korea Cooperation)
Biography.com (Park Geun-hye biography)