Slain dictator's daughter turns to mother's legacy in bid to lead South Korea

Tue Aug 28, 2012 8:09pm EDT
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By Ju-min Park

OKCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Park Geun-hye was 22 years old when she washed the blood from her assassinated mother's dress. Five years later, she recalls in her autobiography, she held her father's blood-soaked shirt after the South Korean strongman was shot dead.

Now, both hampered and helped by the contrasting legacies of her murdered parents, the 60-year-old Park appears on the cusp of becoming South Korea's first female president.

Park was chosen as presidential candidate for the ruling conservatives last week and polls show she is the front-runner for a December election.

For some South Koreans, it is the memory of Park's father, Park Chung-hee, that comes to mind when they think of her. He was a military dictator whose 18-year rule dragged the country out of poverty but at the cost of human rights.

He is still a controversial figure in the now-prosperous Asian industrial power. Park's opponents will aim to tar her with his brush in the election race.

But it is recollections of her mother, Yuk Young-soo, once known as "the mother of the nation", that look set to help propel Park into the presidential Blue House.

Yuk is remembered for acts of charity that included a famous visit to a leper colony where she shook hands and embraced the sick. She remains South Korea's most popular first lady by far, polls show.

For many South Koreans, Park's frugal lifestyle as a single woman living in a modest home in the capital, Seoul, as well as her simple clothes and 1970s hairstyle bring her mother to mind.   Continued...

Park Geun-hye (front L) looks at relics pertaining to her mother and the late first lady Yuk Young-soo at an opening of the Park Chung Hee Memorial-Library in Seoul in this February 21, 2012 file picture. REUTERS/Park Sang-hun/Newsis