SEOUL - South Korea's ruling conservatives have picked Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a slain dictator, as their candidate for December's presidential polls, Yonhap news agency reported on Monday, putting her on track to become the country's first woman leader.
Park, the daughter of Park Chung-hee who ruled the country from 1961 to 1979, won her New Frontier Party's presidential primary with 86 percent of the vote, television station YTN said. There was no official confirmation of the result.
Polls show Park, who is ahead of any of the declared liberal opponents by double digits, will most likely return to the presidential Blue House 33 years after she left it in mourning for her assassinated father.
In a bid to woo younger, urban voters, Park has spoken of job security and welfare, and has pledged to re-engage with North Korea and reward the impoverished rival if Pyongyang shows it is serious about change.
North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un appears to be taking tentative steps to rebuild its shattered economy. Earlier this month South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has favoured an unforgiving stance towards the North, said Pyongyang should consider bringing about a "transformation".
For many older voters in the South, Park's name is a reminder of the steely military man who led the poverty-stricken country through rapid economic growth and banned political freedoms in the name of confronting threats from North Korea with which the South fought a war between 1950 and 1953.
Switching course from her lost presidential bid five years ago when she dubbed her policies "Korean Thatcherism" after the free-market former British prime minister, aides say Park has this time used German Chancellor Angela Merkel as her benchmark.
The lack of a serious challenger in the party primary has allowed her to dump earlier tough policies, instead building a campaign on an inclusive message that embraced many of the same points advocated by the liberal opposition.
One of the key election issues will be the country's business conglomerates, also known as chaebol, whose size and economic power gives them political sway. Many voters want to see their power reduced.
ENTERED POLITICS TO "SAVE HER COUNTRY"
Park entered politics in her mid-40s to help "save" her country as it spiralled into an economic turmoil at the height of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and has had three stints as the leader of the conservatives, winning the accolade "Queen of Elections" for a series of comebacks for the party.
This is her third attempt to win the conservative presidential nomination.
Despite decades in public life, including a stint as first lady after her mother was killed in 1974 by a bullet meant for her father, Park is intensely private. She has never married and lives in a grey house in a quiet neighbourhood in Seoul.
Park, who was 9 when her father took power in a coup, moved out of imposing presidential palace the Blue House in 1979 after her father was shot dead by his disgruntled spy chief at a drunken private dinner.
South Korean presidents are constitutionally allowed only one five-year term in office.