12/19/2012, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Park Geun-hye elected new president

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
In an election that saw one of the highest turnouts, projections indicate that the Saenuri (conservative) party candidate won 52.8 per cent of the vote. Daughter of a former dictator, she apologised for her father's methods but not for his achievements. Source tells AsiaNews that she must "choose between Beijing and Washington."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Conservative Park Geun-hye is the new president of South Korea. First woman to occupy this post, she is the daughter of the late Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country as a dictator. The announcement came after a day of heavy voting. With 52.8 per cent of the projected vote against 46.6 per cent for adversary, Democratic United Party Moon Jae-in, Ms Park is expected to speak to the nation in downtown Seoul. Official results should be released shortly by the National Election Commission.

Even though the president-elect said she would abolish upper class privileges to rebalance South Korean society, she was heavily favoured by big business. Her campaign team is also largely made up of people from the business community. In September, although she apologised for her father's dictatorship, she never condemned his actions.

The campaign went down to the wire. Despite his smaller war chest, Moon was able to cut an 8 per cent gap in early December. Exit polls today saw him trailing his opponent by 0.5 to 1 per cent.

Although not centred on North Korea, the presidential campaign included security. Economically, diplomatic and military, South Korea still relies on its special relationship with the United States ever since the Korean War ended in 1953. Some 50,000 US troops are still stationed in South Korea and both nations signed a free trade agreement that still is not well liked by South Koreans.

The new president "must now decide what to do with the issue from her first day in office," a source in the Interior Ministry told AsiaNews. "She has to choose whether to stay with the United States or open up to China and Japan, looking at Beijing's free trade ambitions in East Asia. Whatever decision she makes, it will have major consequences, and there is no more time for ambiguities."

"The president-elect will have to reassure people," the source added. "She will have to earn their trust, especially in terms of the people she appoints. Previous leaders appointed unknown people to key posts only on a partisan basis. This practice must end."

In any case, these elections are a milestone in the history of South Korean democracy. This year's poll saw the highest turnout since the first free elections were held after the end of the dictatorship.

According to government figures, 75.8 per cent of eligible voters cast their vote, 13 per cent more than in 2007 and 5 per cent more than in 2002.

A high number of young people also voted.

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