What Kind of President Will Park Geun-hye Be?

      December 21, 2012 10:56

      Following Park Geun-hye's election as Korea's first woman president, pundits are wondering what sort of leader she will make. Park played up her supposed womanly qualities during the election campaign, and this apparently persuaded some voters.

      But what is a feminine leadership style, and how is Park likely to shape up in comparison with other prominent female leaders?

      ◆ Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel?

      Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is one yardstick for a feminine leadership style. Known as the "Iron Lady" for her assertive ways, she was re-elected prime minister three times from 1979 to 1990.

      But Park is apparently more influenced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an altogether milder presence on the international stage. The president-elect wrote in her autobiography that there are many things she has in common with Merkel, including economic and diplomatic goals, the fact that they both came from conservative ruling parties and that they studied science.

      Other pundits compare Park to obscurer figures like former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, whose term ended in 2010, since she seeks to pursue social cohesion. Bachelet is viewed as having played a role in uniting Chilean society, which had remained deeply divided for many years after military dictatorship ended.

      ◆ Strengths

      Female leaders are often said to be somehow more sympathetic and considerate than men. In Korea, men prefer a leadership style based on command and control, while women seek leadership based on social reciprocity. "Unlike men, who are used to authoritarian and male-dominated styles of leadership, women tend to place the importance on human bonds, consideration and cooperation," said Kim Kwang-woong at Seoul National University. "As a result, more importance is placed on sympathy, harmony and persuasion rather than conflict, feuding and command."

      Experts claim another strong point of women leaders is that they are less prone to corruption. "Generally speaking, female leaders have a higher chance of being free from corruption than male leaders," said Ka Sang-joon at Dankook University. "Park has no husband or children so people think that all she has to worry about are her siblings." 

      Park used this as a selling point during her campaign.

      ◆ Challenges

      But Park's leadership will be tested in traditional male domains like national security and crisis management. "When it comes to a woman president, the public is especially jittery about defense and relations with North Korea," Ka said. "Women leaders score high in the areas of welfare and social unity but can appear weak in terms of security and defense," said Lee Nae-young at Korea University.

      There are also concerns that most of the officials Park has to deal with are men, which could lead to difficulties in communication. This means a "womanly" leadership style focusing on communication and sympathy could be less efficient.

      But experts say Park's own style is fairly gender-neutral. "Park appealed to the public with her warm and soft touch, but she can be adamant when it comes to her principles and places a lot of importance on trust, which are commonly associated with male leaders," said Choi Jin of the Institute of Presidential Leadership.

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