South Korea elects dictator's daughter first woman president
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As leader of Asia's fourth-largest economy, Park, 60, will face numerous challenges, handling a belligerent North Korea, a slowing economy and soaring welfare costs in one of the world's most rapidly ageing societies.
With 85 per cent of the national vote counted, Park had an insurmountable lead of 51.6 per cent to 48 per cent over her liberal rival, Moon Jae-In of the main opposition party.
The election was largely fought on domestic economic issues, with both candidates offering similar policies as they went in search of centrist voters beyond their conservative and liberal bases.
Park had pushed a message of "economic democratisation" -- a campaign buzzword about reducing the social disparities thrown up by rapid economic development -- and promised to create new jobs and increase welfare spending.
"I will be a president who fulfills in every way the promises I made to the people," Park told cheering, flag-waving supporters at an open-air victory celebration in central Seoul.
However she had been far more cautious than Moon about the need to rein in the power of the giant family-run conglomerates, or "chaebol", that dominate the national economy.
On North Korea, Park has promised a dual policy of greater engagement and "robust deterrence", and held out the prospect of a summit with the North's young leader Kim Jong-Un, who came to power a year ago.
She also signalled a willingness to resume the humanitarian aid to Pyongyang suspended by current President Lee Myung-Bak.
But she will be restricted by hawkish forces in her New Frontier Party as well as an international community intent on punishing North Korea for its long-range rocket launch last week.
To some extent today's election was seen as a referendum on the legacy of Park's father, Park Chung-Hee.
More than three decades after he was assassinated, Park remains one of modern Korea's most polarising figures -- admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his ruthless suppression of dissent during 18 years of military rule.
He was shot dead by his spy chief in 1979. Park's mother had been killed five years earlier by a pro-North Korea gunman aiming for her father.
In an effort at reconciliation, Park publicly acknowledged the excesses of her father's regime during her campaign and apologised to the families of its victims. "I believe that it is an unchanging value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics," she said.