Seoul - Park Guen Hye, the daughter of former military dictator Park Chung Hee, narrowly beat her opponent Wednesday in theneck-and-neck race for the South Korean presidency.
In February, Park will be sworn in as the country's first female president. The National Election Commission said Park, 60, the former head ofthe ruling conservative Saenuri Party, had secured the necessary votes and defeated Moon Jae In, 59, of the Democratic United Party.
With more than 96 per cent of votes counted, Park secured 51.6 percent against Moon's 47.9 per cent.
"I will become a president of the people's livelihoods who keepsher promises to the people and open an era in which the people are happy," Park, 60, told a rally in Gwanghwamun in the centre of Seoul,according to the Yonhap news agency.
"This election was a victory for you, the people," she said. "I promised three main things during my campaign: To become a president of the people's livelihoods, a president who keeps promises, and a president who achieves grand unity." While Park is seen as intelligent and principled, she lacks her father's charisma. She served as "first lady" from the age of 22after her mother was killed in a failed 1974 assassination attempt on her father.
Park disappeared from public life for years following her father's assassination by his security chief in 1979.
Her family background played a big role with voters. Her father is still revered by large segments of the population, especially theelderly who remember the rapid economic growth under his leadership.That often outweighs the fact that he committed serious human rights violations.
The main subjects of both campaigns were boosting Asia's fourth-largest economy, implementing stronger social policies, creating jobs and lowering the costs of education.
On the foreign policy front, the top concerns were policy towards North Korea, the tense relationship with former colonial ruler Japan and cooperation with military and political ally the United States.
Voting was taking place a week after North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket, which put a satellite into space. South Korea, the US, Japan and other countries charged it was part of aballistic missile development programme and condemned it as a violation of UN resolutions.
Moon and Park both called for stronger engagement with North Korea, counter to President Lee Myung Bak's policies. Relations between the two neighbours worsened soon after Lee took office in2008 as he took a harder line towards Pyongyang.
Lee telephoned Park to congratulate her. "Congratulations on your victory. You had a tough time," spokesman Park Jung-ha quoted Lee assaying.
US President Barack Obama also said he looked forward to cooperating with Park in an alliance that "serves as a lynchpin ofpeace and security in the Asia Pacific."