Park Geun-hye took oath to become Korea’s 18th president Monday, pledging to better people’s lives through a creative economy and expanded welfare, and urging North Korea to discard its nuclear ambition and join the trust-building process for peace.
“As President of the Republic of Korea, I will live up to the will of the people by achieving economic rejuvenation, the happiness of the people, and the flourishing of our culture,” Park said before some 70,000 attendants including former presidents, politicians, delegates and dignitaries at the inauguration ceremony held at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul.
She placed public well-being at the center of her address, using the word “happiness” a total of 19 times. Park also called for the people’s support for the new government in its efforts to revive the economy through the global doldrums and tackling security challenges from North Korea, which conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.
“I will usher in a new era of hope whereby the happiness of each citizen becomes the bedrock of our nation’s strength which in turn is shared by and benefits all Koreans,” she said.
Park’s government launches on a shaky ground, with political clashes delaying the approval of her government overhaul plans and top-post nominees.
Her approval rating is at a record low of below 50 percent as she faces criticism for being uncommunicative and backtracking on her earlier pledge for economic democratization.
Donning an olive green jacket and a lavender scarf, Park waved to the cheering crowd as she arrived at the ceremony at 11 a.m., where a series of cultural events were held to liven up the mood. Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak and first lady Kim Yoon-ok welcomed Park to the stage, joined by invited guests including U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
North Korea’s increasing threat figured prominently in her 20-minute address.
“North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself,” she said.
The new president reaffirmed her commitment to the trust-building process, stating she will move forward step by step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North.
“Trust can be built through dialogue and by honoring promises that have already been made. It is my hope that North Korea will abide by international norms and make the right choice so that the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula can move forward.”
Park also emphasized the importance of enhanced diplomacy with the region’s major players to ease tension and conflicts including the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and other Asian and Oceanic countries.
The daughter of former iron-fisted ruler Park Chung-hee became the country’s first female president after winning the December election against Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in with 52 percent of the votes.
Park’s campaign based on national unity and economic democratization was seen to have gathered the votes of moderates and conservatives but also exposed the country’s aggravated ideological division.
Park took over as commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces at midnight Sunday, which was celebrated by the striking of the Boshingak bell in central Seoul.
In her first morning as president, Park left her home in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, as residents clapped on, and gifted her with a puppy to join her at Cheong Wa Dae. Park then paid tribute at the national cemetery.
In her inauguration speech, Park assured to uphold her pledges for economic revival through creative economy and economic democratization.
“A creative economy is defined by the convergence of science and technology with industry, the fusion of culture with industry, and the blossoming of creativity in the very borders that were once permeated by barriers.”
She vowed to raise the country’s science and technology to world-class levels such as by mobilizing the new Ministry of Future Planning and Science, and to go beyond the rudimentary expansion of existing markets to create new markets and new jobs.
For economic democratization centered on fair market, Park promised to implement policies to strengthen small and medium-sized businesses and root out unfair practices in the market.
Tailored welfare and improved education were also promised to “transform our society from one that stresses academic credentials to one that is merit-based so that each individual’s dreams and flair can bear fruit.”
Park promised a safe society for women and the disabled, as well as fair laws for the underprivileged and transparent administration.
“I will earn the trust of the people by ensuring that our government remains clean, transparent and competent. I will endeavor to shed popular distrust of government and strive to elevate the capital of trust.”
Political parties set aside their wrangling over Park’s government reorganization plans, and welcomed the new administration.
“In order for Park to overcome various crises in the state administration, it is crucial to gather the people’s energy into one. It is necessary to maintain an open mind to listen to the voice of the people and cherish the views of the opposition parties,” the ruling Saenuri Party said in a statement.
The DUP also congratulated Park and said in a statement, “We sincerely hope for the success of the Park Geun-hye government for sake of the future of the Republic of Korea and the people, and we will offer our cooperation for that purpose.”
Following the inauguration, Park, dressed in a red and blue hanbok (traditional gown), attended a ceremony at Gwanghwamun joined by selected citizens.
Reading out some of the messages addressed to her one by one, Park said she will exert her efforts throughout her tenure to solve the problems related to irregular workers.
At around 1:15 p.m., Park arrived at Cheong Wa Dae where the presidential staff formed a line outside to welcome her, as she made her return to the presidential house 33 years after her departure as the first child of an assassinated president.
In the afternoon, Park made an official appointment confirmation of her prime minister Chung Hong-won and the top presidential secretaries before meeting with the visiting foreign envoys including Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong.
Park capped off her first official presidential schedule with a celebratory dinner inviting key politicians and dignitaries.Highlights of inaugural address
“I will usher in a new era of hope whereby the happiness of each citizen becomes the bedrock of our nation’s strength.”
“A new paradigm of tailored welfare will free citizens from anxieties and allow them to prosper in their own professions, maximize their potentials, and also contribute to the nation’s development.”
“Economic revitalization is going to be propelled by a creative economy and economic democratization.”
“The new government will focus its efforts on building a safe society where women, people with disabilities, or anyone else for that matter, can feel at ease as they carry on with their lives.”
“We will harness the innate value of culture in order to heal social conflicts and bridging cultural divides separating different regions, generations, and social strata.”
“I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development.”
“I will earn the trust of the people by ensuring that our government remains clean, transparent and competent.”
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org