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IS newly inaugurated South Korean President Park Geun Hye backtracking on her election promise to crack down on the nation’s chaebols, the family-owned business conglomerates?

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LAST Dec 19, South Korea’s ruling conservative and staunchly pro-US Saenuri (New Frontier Party) extended its tenure with the successful election of its candidate for the country’s presidency. But while voters may have been expressing a preference for continuity rather than the radical economic shifts advocated by opposition groups, some form of change seems almost inevitable.

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DO ELECTIONS really make a difference? In the wake of parliamentary elections in South Korea last month, critics of the nation’s chaebols could be forgiven for thinking that they do not.

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“THE social mobility (of the disadvantaged) has been blocked,” thundered the Korea Times in a hard-hitting editorial last month. The target of the newspaper’s ire was yet another scandal involving admissions procedures for South Korean colleges and universities.

Key Political Risks

Park Geun-hye, daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, won the December 19 presidential election. She has the support of the ruling conservative New Frontier Party, but as a woman in a deeply patriarchal society, she may have to work hard to assert her authority in government.  


  • Attitude of the government towards the chaebols (large family-owned conglomerates). Ms Park's father strongly supported chaebol development when he was president, but during the recent campaign Ms Park indicated that she would back reforms aimed at ensuring fair competition for smaller firms.
  • Measures designed to assist women enter the workforce, improve child care facilities and help lower income groups.
  • Official policies towards the North. In campaign speeches, Ms Park appeared to distance herself from her conservative predecessor's hardline stance. But powerful elements within the ruling New Frontier Party are likely to resist any change.
  • Continuing power transition in the North. It has gone smoothly so far. But there also appear to be those in the upper echelons of the regime that are unhappy with Kim Jong Un's credentials and see him as a weak leader.

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

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