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Conservative Park Geun-hye elected first female president of S. Korea


08:17, December 20, 2012

SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- Park Geun-hye of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party won the tightly contested presidential election held Wednesday, becoming the first woman to lead the country and extending the conservative rule for another five years.

With 94.5 percent of the votes counted, Park, the 60-year-old daughter of South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, won 51.7 percent of the vote, becoming the first one to garner more than half of all votes since democratic elections began in 1987.

Her archrival, Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party, was a close second with 47.9 percent.

Voter turnout was estimated at 75.8 percent, the highest in 15 years, according to the National Election Commission.

"I will become a president who puts people's livelihoods before anything else," Park told cheering crowds in central Seoul as she accepted her victory. "I will keep my promises."

Park, who ran on job creation, welfare expansion and engagement with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), had maintained a slight lead in almost all pre-election opinion surveys, though many were within the margin of error.

As a political veteran with the moniker "queen of elections," Park acted as the de facto first lady to her father after her mother was assassinated and is credited with reviving the Saenuri Party when it was mired in a series of devastating corruption scandals.

She remains widely popular among older voters nostalgic for rapid economic growth under the senior Park's 18-year authoritarian rule, while critics point to ruthless suppression of dissidents during his reign.

Despite dogged opposition criticism of Park for her reluctance to apologize for abuses under her father's watch, the five-term lawmaker proved yet again to be unassailable in key southern cities including her hometown of Deagu.

Moon, a 59-year-old former human rights lawyer who was once jailed for protesting the senior Park's repressive rule, had billed the election as a contest between vested interests and aspirations for new politics.

"I failed to keep the promise of an era of new politics," Moon said as he conceded defeat in a news conference at the campaign headquarters in Seoul. "I congratulate Park on her victory."

Moon, former chief of staff to late ex-President Roh Moo-hyun, was the sole candidate running on the liberal ticket after independent Ahn Cheol-soo and leftist candidate Lee Jung-hee bowed out of the race to throw their support behind him.

He sought to make the election a judgment call on the unpopular incumbent Lee Myung-bak, but Park successfully distanced herself from the man who had defeated her in the party primary five years ago.

Lee's single five-year term ends early February, 2013.

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