Although South Korea is notorious for its so-called “glass ceilings” for female achievement, the liberals had dominated the gender debate, sniping at Ms. Park’s never-married status and lack of motherhood experience.
On Wednesday, she responded: “Like a mother who dedicates her life to her family, I will become a president who takes care of the lives of each one of you.”
Scott Snyder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that although Ms. Park did not campaign on a platform of women’s issues, her victory makes her a role model for Korean women.
“There are ways in which Korean society is changing and needs to change, and in theory some of those changes can be accelerated by the fact that Madam Park has reached this position in Korean society,” Mr. Snyder said.
An economic challenge
During the campaign, there was little difference between the two candidates on the major issues of the day — the economy and North Korea. Both Ms. Park and Mr. Moon called for renewed efforts to engage North Korean officials and reforms to help South Korea’s middle class and small businesses.
“Traditionally, there were policy differences related to North Korea or economic issues,” said Kang Won-taek, a politics professor at Seoul National University. “But this time, policies are quite similar. There is no salient issue.”
Ms. Park has pledged to “restore the broken middle class,” but analysts said she has her work cut out for her.
“On the domestic front, she has to raise Korean growth rates from a paltry 2 percent to levels Koreans are used to — 5.5 percent — but at the same time do that without leaving people behind,” said Mr. Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Voting appeared to be along demographic lines, with older voters who had experienced Park Chung-hee’s “economic miracle” opting for his daughter and those who had protested the dictator and the general who succeeded him favoring Mr. Moon.
“I voted Park, she is wonderful,” said Lee Kyung-joo, 83, a retiree and Korean War veteran. “And her father was a great president.”
The clearest ground between the candidates was on corporate policy. Mr. Moon demanded tough measures to rein in the giant family-run conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai. Despite being economic locomotives, the corporations are widely alleged to crush competition.
Late in the campaign, Miss Park toned down her earlier demands for reform.
On foreign policy
Foreign policy is more complicated than it was just weeks ago.