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South Korea's ruling party taps Park for presidential bid

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Mon August 20, 2012
  • If elected, Park Geun-hye would be the country's first female president
  • Park is the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee
  • He was assassinated by his security chief in 1979

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party overwhelmingly selected Park Geun-hye as its presidential candidate during its political convention on Monday.

If elected, Park -- the first woman ever nominated by the party, and the daughter of the country's former dictator -- would become the country's first-ever female president.

Park won the support of her party running on a campaign of creating "a country where no one is left behind." Park has said she will focus on welfare policies if she is elected in December and will engage with North Korea if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program.

Park hopes to unite a country that the legacy of her father, the late Park Chung-hee, still divides.

The military dictator who went on to win elections was behind the rapid economic growth of South Korea during the 1960s, following the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to1953 and devastated the peninsula. Supporters say he economically transformed the country, but critics say he disregarded democracy to do so and committed human rights abuses.

Under pressure from the Kennedy administration in the United States, Park re-established civilian rule and was elected in a national referendum in 1963, and easily re-elected in 1967, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg noted in a 1999 Time article.

Park "had a hard time beating Kim Dae-jung in 1971. The validity of Park's narrow election victory is still questioned. In 1972, fearing Kim's political potency, Park changed the election system, allowing indirect voting that could be controlled by the incumbent. In 1972 and again in 1978 he was easily elected for six-year terms," wrote Gregg, who had served as ambassador from 1989 to 1993.

Park was assassinated by his security chief in 1979.

Park Geun-hye lost to the current president, Lee Myung-bak, in the party's last primary in 2007. Lee can only serve one term under South Korean law.

CNN's Judy Kwon and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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