In the presidential election slated for December, the birth of the nation's first female president has become a major focus of concern among Korean voters.
Officially recognized preliminary presidential hopefuls include Rep. PARK Geun-Hye, former supreme representative of the Grand National Party (GNP), Rep. HAN Myeong-Sook of the Uri Party and former prime minister, and Rep. SIM Sang-Jeung of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Other potential candidates include lawyer KANG Kum-Sil, Korea's first female Minister of Justice, whose appointment sparked the interest of many ordinary citizens, and CHANG Sang, former president of Ewha Womens University and a co-chair of the Democratic Party.
The possibility of Rep. PARK Geun-Hye becoming the first female president is the highest as she has been leading in the polls with an approval rating of over 20%. Meanwhile, progressive women’s groups criticize that as the daughter of the late president PARK Chung-Hee who was symbolic of the Yusin (Revitalizing Reforms) dictatorial rule, she has never officially apologized for her father’s historic mistakes.
Rep. HAN Myeong-Sook, a former prime minister, has long been active in Korea's women's movement. She is believed to be a typical role model for female leaders in Korea with her extensive experience as chair of the Korean Womenlink, co-chair of the Korea Women's Associations United (KWAU), member of the National Assembly, the first female minister of gender equality, minister of environment, and prime minister.
Rep. SIM Sang-Jeung of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), a labor activist-turned politician, is clearing the deck for the presidential race by building up her ability to formulate better policies to offset her low approval rating and popularity.
Experts have commented on the situation by saying, "Rather than having a preference for a female president, voters in Korea have been enlightened enough to be willing to choose a woman as their president as long as she is properly equipped to perform her duties as the chief executive." "In the short term, the result may increase the number of seats for women in the 18th general elections (to elect members of the National Assembly). In the long run, it could drastically expedite the election of a female president," they added, expressing their optimism.