[INSIGHT]Can she make it on her own?

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[INSIGHT]Can she make it on her own?

Age 50. Four years and three months in politics. A two-time National Assembly lawmaker.

At a glance the above profile looks like that of a political newcomer with a promising future rather than a sophomoric lawmaker, not to mention a leading politician. However, the person in question, Park Geun-hye, has already served as a vice president of the main opposition Grand National Party and is now a strong presidential candidate. She became popular in a relatively short period of time. Ms. Park's sudden rise as a top-notch politician stems from her ability and hard work, but mostly from the fact that she is the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee.

Ms. Park apparently had made up her mind to run for president when she stepped out from the main opposition party last week. She said the time had come for a woman to run for president. Newspaper polls show that her popularity equals that of the seven presidential hopefuls from the ruling Millennium Democratic Party. Korea may just get another president with the family name of Park, after 24 years. One Park and three Kims dominated Korea's political scene for 40 years. Their offspring might create a second era of "Park-3Kims" politics.

An observation of other Asian nations makes Ms. Park's run for president less far-fetched. Indira Gandhi, daughter of the former Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was repeatedly elected prime minister of India before she was assassinated in 1984. President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia is the daughter of former president Ahmed Sukarno. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines is the daughter of President Diosdado P. Macapagal, the fifth president of the Philippines. These women coming into power may have driven Ms. Park to step forward.

Ms. Park should not forget that she will not be judged as a former president's daughter but for her abilities as a political leader should she run for president. Ms. Park should not be disadvantaged for being a former president's daughter, but she should not win the presidency for that reason alone. Some criticize the lawmaker, saying she has not proved herself much. Some even say Ms. Park's understanding of the lives of ordinary people is limited, as she never has been a homemaker, taking charge of household affairs. As she moves closer to a run for president, she will draw harsher criticism.

Actually, much of what Ms. Park has achieved in her short career stemmed from the aura of her legendary father. Many Koreans, disillusioned by the incompetence of former President Kim Young-sam and the incumbent, Kim Dae-jung, have idolized Park Chung Hee as an ideal ruler who deserves more respect than King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty, who is hailed as the greatest monarch in Korean history. The voters in Daegu and the Gyeongsang provinces, where she was elected National Assembly representative, support the Grand National Party blindly.

But Ms. Park decided to leave her privileges behind, leaving the GNP to stand on her own.

The eventual success of her venture depends on whether she maintains her stardom by stressing her abilities and personality. In her bid for the presidency, Ms. Park will have to prove that she is a person suitable for the position, regardless of her being a president's daughter. She must display her outstanding abilities to manage state affairs, willingness to commit and political sense. The political culture of Korea is different from those of Indonesia and the Philippines, where the offspring of former presidents have succeeded politically. Her rivals may scheme to bring out her father's dark side, which is being overlooked.

There are many politicians who try to retain power by taking advantage of the nostalgia surrounding Park Chung Hee. Some political insiders say that a new leader should emerge, as many people are fed up with Kim Dae-jung and Lee Hoi-chang, the strong opposition party candidate. These same people are turning to Ms. Park to lead them, and some have reportedly fanned her ambition. Ms. Park could establish her footing through them, but at the same time she could be exploited by a pack of minor and low-class politicians and lose what she has amassed.

Ms. Park has taken the difficult road. If she had remained in the GNP and run in the primary, she might have taken her share of the votes as a leader of a minor faction. If the GNP wins the coming presidential election, she might have served as a cabinet minister or a supreme council member. There were other presidential hopefuls who quit their parties before the race, but none succeeded politically. We'll see if Ms. Park proves herself as an able presidential candidate beyond the privileges of a president's daughter.


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The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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