Next Score View the next score

    S. Korea’s president-elect urges unity, reconciliation

    South Korea's president-elected Park Geun-hye left after a press conference at the headquarters of Saenuri Party in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday.
    Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press
    South Korea's president-elected Park Geun-hye left after a press conference at the headquarters of Saenuri Party in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday.

    SEOUL — South Korea’s president-elect, Park Geun-hye, called for national reconciliation Thursday and met with foreign envoys in Seoul, a day after she was elected the country’s first female leader in a close contest that reflected generational and regional divides and growing unease about North Korea’s military threat.

    Park, 60, the daughter of South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator, won 51.6 percent of votes cast Wednesday to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak, who was barred by law from seeking a second term.

    ‘‘I will reflect various opinions of the people, whether they have supported or opposed me,’’ Park said in a speech Thursday. She pledged ‘‘impartiality,’’ “national harmony,’’ and ‘‘reconciliation,’’ saying she would bring people into her government ‘‘regardless of their regional background, gender, and generation.’’


    She also promised ‘‘the sharing of fruits of economic growth,’’ mindful of doubts that her conservative party, the governing Saenuri Party, would address the widening income gap that was one of the biggest issues in the campaign.

    Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
    The day's top stories delivered every morning.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    On Wednesday, Park became the first presidential candidate to win a majority of the vote since South Korea adopted a democratic constitution in 1987. But the campaign hardly put the country’s divisions to rest. It rekindled a dispute on the legacy of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who remains a polarizing figure 33 years after his iron-fisted rule ended in his assassination in 1979. It also highlighted a generational divide on issues such as North Korea and the powerful, family-controlled business conglomerates known as chaebol. Exit polls show that Park won twice as many votes among people 50 and older than did her main rival, Moon Jae-in, but only half as many among voters in their 20s and 30s.

    She defeated Moon in most provinces and big cities. But Seoul and the southwestern provinces of North and South Jeolla, traditionally a progressive stronghold, chose the liberal Moon, who championed bold economic investment in North Korea as a means of inducing denuclearization and more aggressive measures to tame the conglomerates, which have been widely blamed for growing economic inequality. Moon won 48 percent of the vote nationwide.

    Park met Thursday with the ambassadors from the United States, China, Japan, and Russia, the four other nations involved with the two Koreas in talks on the North’s nuclear arms programs. The meetings reflected the sensitive timing of her election — she is to be inaugurated in February, not long after President Obama begins his second term in Washington. South Korea fears that Japan will form an increasingly nationalist Cabinet following its parliamentary election last Sunday. Seoul has also grown increasingly concerned about how to position itself between its traditional ally the United States and a rising China.

    Obama said he would work closely with Park. Japan’s prime-minister-in-waiting, Shinzo Abe, said Thursday that he would seek close communication with her, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency. The three leaders’ most urgent joint task is how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear programs, as demonstrated by its launch of a rocket last week. Park on Thursday referred to the launch as ‘‘a symbolic demonstration of how serious a challenge we face in national security.’’


    ‘‘North Korea will wait a few months to see if Park Geun-hye will appease it with money,’’ said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Kookmin University in Seoul. ‘‘If she does not . . . then North Korea will launch provocations.’’